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July 2nd, 2015

Star Walk Month of Astronomy 2015 Begins Now

For the stargazer in you

For the stargazer in you

Welcome to our 5th annual astronomy adventure! For one month starting now we will post astronomy questions and photo contests to challenge our friends and see who’s a true master of the night sky!

Prizes await winners and participants:

One Magnificent New Apple Watch
Free apps from Vito team
Star Walk T-Shirts

Stay tuned and watch for #StarWalkMoA2015 hashtag on Facebook and Twitter. May the force of knowledge be with you!

Cheers,
Team Star Walk

 


July 1st, 2015

Starburst Cluster Shows Celestial Firew

 

Credit: NASAESA, R. O’Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)


June 30th, 2015

This Year’s Finest Conjunction: Venus and Jupiter

Two brightest planets Venus and Jupiter come as close as a third of a degree apart as seen from North America. It will be easy to spot them in the western sky as no other celestial body will outshine the beautiful tandem when the sun and the moon are down.

“To the eye they’ll look like a double star,” said Kelly Beatty, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. “Anyone who hasn’t glanced at the evening sky for a while will be surprised by how dramatically tight the pairing is.”

The closest conjunction will happen on June 30th and July 1st, 2015. Use Star Walk to find your way across the sky and see the exact timing for your location.

 

Use Star Walk to find your way across the sky and see the exact timing for your location. Star Walk is available worldwide on iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Mobile.

 

Source: Star Walk


June 26th, 2015

SDO Sees Mid-level Solar Flare

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M7.9-class solar flare on June 25, 2015. This flare originated from the same sunspot group that has been producing minor to mid-level flare since first appearing on the face of the sun. Credits: NASA/SDO

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 4:16 a.m. EDT on June 25, 2015. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

To see how this event may affect Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.

This flare is classified as a M7.9 flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.

 

Credit: NASA

 


June 24th, 2015

Light Echo in X-rays

A light echo in X-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has provided a rare opportunity to precisely measure the distance to an object on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy. The rings exceed the field-of-view of Chandra’s detectors, resulting in a partial image of X-ray data. Credits: NASA/CXC/U. Wisconsin/S. Heinz

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered the largest and brightest set of rings from X-ray light echoes ever observed. These extraordinary rings, produced by an intense flare from a neutron star, provide astronomers a rare chance to determine how far across the Milky Way galaxy the star is from Earth.

 

The rings appear as circles around Circinus X-1, a double star system in the plane of our galaxy containing a neutron star, the dense remnant of a massive star pulverized in a supernova explosion. The neutron star is in orbit with another massive star, and is shrouded by thick clouds of interstellar gas and dust. Circinus X-1 is also the source of a surprisingly powerful jet of high-energy particles.

 

“It’s really hard to get accurate distance measurements in astronomy and we only have a handful of methods,” said Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who led the study. “But just as bats use sonar to triangulate their location, we can use the X-rays from Circinus X-1 to figure out exactly where it is.”

 

The light echo shows that Circinus X-1 is located about 30,700 light years from Earth, and settles the difference in results published in prior studies. The detection and characterization of the rings required the unique capabilities of Chandra — the ability to detect fine details combined with sensitivity to faint signals.

 

Researchers determined that the rings are echoes from a burst of X-rays emitted by Circinus X-1 in late 2013. The burst reflected off intervening clouds of dust, with some reflected X-rays arriving to Earth from different angles at a time delay of about one to three months, creating the observed rings.

 

By comparing the Chandra data to prior images of dust clouds detected by the Mopra radio telescope in Australia, the researchers determined that each ring was created by the X-ray reflections off a different dust cloud. The radio data provides the distance to the different clouds and the X-ray echo determines the location of Circinus X-1 relative to the clouds. An analysis of the rings with the combined radio data allows researchers to use simple geometry to accurately determine the distance of Circinus X-1 from Earth.

 

“We like to call this system the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but this one has nothing to do with Sauron,” said co-author Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “The beautiful match between the Chandra X-ray rings and the Mopra radio images of the different clouds is really a first in astronomy.”

 

This new distance estimate means that Circinus X-1 is inherently much brighter in X-rays and other types of light than some scientists previously thought, and indicates that the star system has repeatedly passed a key threshold for brightness where the outward pressure from radiation by the system is balanced by the inward pull of gravity. This behavior is something astronomers generally see more often in systems containing black holes than in systems like Circinus X-1 that contain a neutron star.

 

The researchers also determined that the speed of the jet of high-energy particles produced by the system is at least 99.9% of the speed of light. This extreme velocity is usually associated with jets produced by a black hole.

 

“Circinus X-1 acts in some ways like a neutron star and in some like a black hole,” said co-author Catherine Braiding, also of the University of New South Wales. “It’s extremely unusual to find an object that has such a blend of these properties.”

 

Circinus X-1 is thought to have originally become an X-ray source about 2,500 years ago, as seen from Earth. This makes Circinus X-1 the youngest so-called X-ray binary known. The new Chandra data allows astronomers to make a detailed three-dimensional map of the dust clouds between Circinus X-1 and us, providing a valuable probe of the structure of the galaxy.

 

These results have been published in The Astrophysical Journal and are available online. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

 

Credit: NASA