Light from the Core of the Sun

These exquisite images are a must see at full resolution. Space imagery from NASA’s Conceptual Image Lab. An elegant interaction powers the sun, producing the light and energy that makes life possible. That interaction is called fusion, and it naturally occurs when two atoms are heated and compressed so intensely that their nuclei merge into a new element. This process often leads to the creation of a photon, the particles of light that are released from the sun.

However, before exiting our star, each photon must first undergo a long journey. Over the course of 40,000 years it will be absorbed by other atoms and emitted repeatedly until reaching the sun’s surface. Once there, the photons stream out, illuminating Earth, the solar system and beyond. The number released from the surface every second is so vast that it is more than a billion billion times greater than the number of grains of sand on our planet.

This movie takes us on a space weather journey from the center of the sun to solar eruptions in the sun’s atmosphere all the way to the effects of that activity near Earth. The view starts in the core of the sun where atoms fuse Continue reading Light from the Core of the Sun

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Dark Matter Structure Revealed

From HubbleCast and host Dr. J. Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have studied a giant filament of dark matter in 3D for the first time. Extending 60 million light-years from one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, the filament is part of the cosmic web that constitutes the large-scale structure of the Universe, and is a leftover of the very first moments after the Big Bang.

The theory of the Big Bang predicts that variations in the density of matter in the very first moments of the Universe led the bulk of the matter in the cosmos to condense into a web of tangled filaments. This view is supported by computer simulations of cosmic evolution, which suggest that the Universe is structured like a web, with long filaments that connect to each other at the locations of massive galaxy clusters. However, these filaments, although vast, are made mainly of dark matter, which is incredibly difficult to observe.

The first convincing identification of a section of one of these filaments was made earlier this year. Now a team of astronomers has gone further by probing a filament’s structure in three dimensions. Seeing a filament in 3D eliminates many of Continue reading Dark Matter Structure Revealed

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Earth-sized Planet Found Orbiting the Sun’s Nearest Neighbor

European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system — the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun.

Alpha Centauri is one of the brightest stars in the southern skies and is the nearest stellar system to our Solar System — only 4.3 light-years away. It is actually a triple star — a system consisting of two stars similar to the Sun orbiting close to each other, designated Alpha Centauri A and B, and a more distant and faint red component known as Proxima Centauri. Since the nineteenth century astronomers have speculated about planets orbiting these bodies, the closest possible abodes for life beyond the Solar System, but searches of increasing precision had revealed nothing. Until now.

The European team detected the planet by picking up the tiny wobbles in the motion of the star Alpha Centauri B created by the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet [2]. The effect is minute — it causes the star to move back and forth by no more than 51 centimetres per second (1.8 km/hour), about the speed of a baby crawling. This Continue reading Earth-sized Planet Found Orbiting the Sun’s Nearest Neighbor

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The Turbulent Story of Galaxy Evolution

From NASA. A comprehensive study of hundreds of galaxies observed by the Keck telescopes in Hawaii and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a surprising pattern to galaxy evolution that extends back 8 billion years, or more than half the age of the universe.

Astronomers thought disk galaxies in the nearby universe had settled into their present form by about 8 billion years ago, with little additional development since. The trend observed shows the opposite, that galaxies were steadily changing over this time period. Today, star-forming galaxies take the form of orderly disk-shaped systems, such as the Andromeda Galaxy or the Milky Way, where rotation dominates over other internal motions. The most distant blue galaxies in the study tend to be very different, exhibiting disorganized motions in multiple directions. There is a steady shift toward greater organization to the present time as the disorganized motions dissipate and rotation speeds increase. These galaxies are gradually settling into well-behaved disks.

Blue galaxies — their color indicates stars are forming within them — show less disorganized motions and ever-faster rotation speeds the closer they are observed to the present. This trend holds true for galaxies of all masses, but the most massive systems always show Continue reading The Turbulent Story of Galaxy Evolution

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Epic New Hawaiian Volcano Activity

Check out this very recent new activity from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano. Just as the activity is rising, we’re learning more about its deeper patterns. A new study finds that a deep connection about 50 miles underground can explain the enigmatic behavior of two of Earth’s most notable volcanoes, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The study, the first to model paired volcano interactions, explains how a link in Earth’s upper mantle could account for Kilauea and Mauna Loa’s competition for the same deep magma supply and their simultaneous “inflation,” or bulging upward, during the past decade.

The research offers the first plausible model that can explain both the opposing long-term eruptive patterns at Mauna Loa and Kilauea — when one is active the other is quiet — as well as the episode in 2003-2007 when GPS records showed that each bulged notably due to the pressure of rising magma. The study was conducted by scientists at Rice University, the University of Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

“We know both volcanoes are fed by the same hot spot, and over the past decade we’ve observed simultaneous inflation, which we interpret to be the consequence of increased pressure Continue reading Epic New Hawaiian Volcano Activity

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Zombie Planet Returns

From NASA and Bela Lugosi. An enormous alien planet that some astronomers thought was dead and buried has come back to life, a new study suggests. A new analysis of observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope found that the bright nearby star Fomalhaut does indeed host a huge exoplanet, which scientists dubbed a “zombie” world in an aptly Halloween-themed video on the alien planet. This conclusion contradicts other recent studies, which determined that the so-called planet — known as Fomalhaut b — is actually just a giant dust cloud.

“Given what we know about the behavior of dust and the environment where the planet is located, we think that we’re seeing a planetary object that is completely embedded in dust rather than a free-floating dust cloud,” co-author John Debes, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in a statement.

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Part I: High-Res Images of Cities at Night (from ISS)

City lights broadcast our existence into the night of space. Imagine how the Earth will look to astronauts in a century’s time or longer? These images are incredibly difficult to take from a spacecraft traveling along at almost 28,000 kilometers per hour. The images are held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in a special archive for astronaut photography. Watch for the great cities of Beijing, Istanbul, Melbourne, Montreal, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Buenos Aires, Brasilia (one of our favorites), and more.

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Hubble Lightness of Being

From Hubblecast and the incomparable Dr. J. We live in a brightly colored world, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. But if you hold a prism up to the whitest of lights, you get a rainbow. For scientists, unweaving this rainbow tells them about the properties of the Universe. Hubble’s ability to study its colors is at the heart of many of its most important discoveries.

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High-Res Images of Cities at Night from the International Space Station

Note: population figures in this video are for metropolitan areas. Humans have created thousands of settlements, and we are lucky enough to be able to see some of them from the eyes of ISS astronauts. These images are incredibly difficult to take from a spacecraft traveling along at almost 28,000 kilometers per hour. The images are held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in a special archive for astronaut photography. Watch for the great cities of Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Johannesburg, New Delhi, Toronto, Sydney, and many others. All included population numbers are based on estimated metropolitan populations.

Original ISS Images –

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Cosmic Journeys: Birth of a Black Hole – Preview

Watch for the full episode, coming soon to Cosmic Journeys. Far out in space, in the center of a seething cosmic maelstrom. Extreme heat. High velocities. Atoms tear, and space literally buckles. Photons fly out across the universe, energized to the limits found in nature. Billions of years later, they enter the detectors of spacecraft stationed above our atmosphere.

Our ability to record them is part of a new age of high-energy astronomy, and a new age of insights into nature at its most extreme. What can we learn by witnessing the violent birth of a black hole?

There have been times when our understanding of the universe has reached a standstill, when our grasp of the workings of time and space, the nature of matter and energy, do not fully square with what we observe. In those times, opposing worldviews cannot be resolved.

So it was in the spring of 1920, when astronomers debated the scale of the universe. The scene was the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. On one side was the astronomer Harlow Shapley, known for his groundbreaking work on the size of our galaxy and the position of the sun within it.

Shapley described the Continue reading Cosmic Journeys: Birth of a Black Hole – Preview

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Space is exciting