Tag Archives: sky

The source of the sky’s X-ray glow

ANN ARBOR — In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft X-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system.

The source of this “diffuse X-ray background” has been debated for the past 50 years. Does it originate from the solar wind colliding with interplanetary gases within our solar system? Or is it born further away, in the “local hot bubble” of gas that a supernova is believed to have left in our galactic neighborhood about 10 million years ago? (more…)

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Catching Black Holes on the Fly

NASA’s black-hole-hunter spacecraft, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has “bagged” its first 10 supermassive black holes. The mission, which has a mast the length of a school bus, is the first telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures.

The new black-hole finds are the first of hundreds expected from the mission over the next two years. These gargantuan structures — black holes surrounded by thick disks of gas — lie at the hearts of distant galaxies between 0.3 and 11.4 billion light-years from Earth. (more…)

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‘We may be able to watch dark energy turn on’: U-M involved in unprecedented sky survey

ANN ARBOR — Moonless nights outside the Cerro Tololo astronomical observatory in Chile are so dark that when you look down, you can’t see your feet.

“You can’t see your hands,” said David Gerdes, physics professor at the University of Michigan. “But you can hold them up to the sky and see a hand-shaped hole with no stars in it. It’s really incredible.”

From this site in the Andes over the next five years, an international team will map one-eighth of the sky in unprecedented detail—aiming to make a time lapse of the past 8 billion years of a slice of the universe. Through the Dark Energy Survey, which began Aug. 31, more than 200 researchers from 25 institutions, including U-M, will search for answers to a fundamental question about the cosmos: Why is its expansion speeding up? (more…)

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‘Nuisance’ Data Lead to Surprising Star-Birth Discovery

When a batch of bright cosmic objects first appeared in maps in 2008 made with data from the South Pole Telescope, astronomers at the University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics regarded it only as an unavoidable nuisance.

The light sources interfered with efforts to measure more precisely the cosmic microwave background—the afterglow of the big bang. But the astronomers soon realized that they had made a rare find in South Pole Telescope’s large survey of the sky. The spectra of some of the bright objects, which is the rainbow of light they emit, were inconsistent with what astronomers expected from the well-known population of radio galaxies. (more…)

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A Long Distance Call: Astronaut’s Kids See Dad’s Office from Ladd

Space Station Commander Kevin Ford exchanged Valentine’s Day greetings with his adult kids Heidi and Anthony — he speeding by about 220 miles above Providence and they watching him fly past from Brown’s Ladd Observatory.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Rhode Islanders with their eyes skyward around 6 p.m. last Thursday might have noticed a curiously bright speck speeding across the evening sky. No, it wasn’t a UFO or an asteroid. It was the International Space Station, and for Providence resident Heidi Ford, it was dad’s office.

Heidi’s father Kevin Ford is currently the commander of the ISS. And with the help of Brown’s Ladd Observatory and astronomer Robert Horton, Heidi and her brother Anthony, who was visiting from Houston, got to see last week’s flyby close up while they talked to their dad on the phone. (more…)

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How to Hunt a Space Rock

Peter Willis and his team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., had a problem. Actually, more like they had a solution that needed a problem. Confused? Let’s let Peter give it a shot…

“My team and I came up with a new lab on a chip,” said Willis, a scientist at JPL’s Microdevices Lab. “It essentially miniaturizes an automated sample processing and analysis instrument that could be put aboard future spacecraft and sent to distant planets, moons and asteroids. One challenge we have is finding new and interesting samples to try our chip on.” (more…)

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Infant Galaxy Offers Peek at Early Universe

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University astronomer is part of an international team of scientists that has discovered a galaxy so far, far away that its light was emitted not all that long after the Big Bang occurred.

The research of MSU’s physics and astronomy professor Megan Donahue and colleagues is detailed in the recent issue of the journal Nature. They found that this galaxy began emitting light “just” 490 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only 3.6 percent of its present age. (more…)

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Supernovae of the Same Brightness, Cut From Vastly Different Cosmic Cloth

Berkeley Lab researchers make historic observation of rare Type 1a Supernova

Exploding stars called Type 1a supernova are ideal for measuring cosmic distance because they are bright enough to spot across the Universe and have relatively the same luminosity everywhere. Although astronomers have many theories about the kinds of star systems involved in these explosions (or progenitor systems), no one has ever directly observed one—until now.

In the August 24 issue of Science, the multi-institutional Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) team presents the first-ever direct observations of a Type 1a supernova progenitor system. Astronomers have collected evidence indicating that the progenitor system of a Type 1a supernova, called PTF 11kx, contains a red giant star. They also show that the system previously underwent at least one much smaller nova eruption before it ended its life in a destructive supernova. The system is located 600 million light years away in the constellation Lynx. (more…)

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