The planetary nebula Abell 33 captured using ESO’s Very Large Telescope

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula Abell 33. Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost perfectly circular on the sky.

Credit: ESO

The planetary nebula Abell 33 captured using ESO’s Very Large Telescope

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula Abell 33. Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost perfectly circular on the sky.

Credit: ESO

NASA’s OCO-2 Brings Sharp New Focus on Global Carbon

Simply by breathing, humans have played a small part in the planet-wide balancing act called the carbon cycle throughout our existence. However, in the last few hundred years, we have taken a larger role. Our activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, are pushing the cycle out of its natural balance, adding more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Natural processes are working hard to keep the carbon cycle in balance by absorbing about half of our carbon emissions, limiting the extent of climate change. There’s a lot we don’t know about these processes, including where they are occurring and how they might change as the climate warms. To understand and prepare for the carbon cycle of the future, we have an urgent need to find out.
This animation shows the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, the first NASA spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. In July 2014, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to study the fate of carbon dioxide worldwide. OCO-2 will not be the first satellite to measure carbon dioxide, but it’s the first with the observational strategy, precision, resolution and coverage needed to answer these questions about these little-monitored regions.
OCO-2’s scientific instrument uses spectrometers, which split sunlight into a spectrum of component colors, or wavelengths. Like all other molecules, carbon dioxide molecules absorb only certain colors of light, producing a unique pattern of dark features in the spectrum. The intensity of the dark features increases as the number of carbon dioxide molecules increases in the air that the spectrometer is looking through.
OCO-2 will collect 24 measurements a second over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere, totaling more than a million measurements each day. Fewer than 20 percent of these measurements will be sufficiently cloud-free to allow an accurate estimate of carbon dioxide, but that number will still yield 100 to 200 times as many measurements as the currently observing Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) mission. The measurements will be used as input for global atmospheric models.
For more information about OCO-2, visit: https://oco.jpl.nasa.gov


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s OCO-2 Brings Sharp New Focus on Global Carbon

Simply by breathing, humans have played a small part in the planet-wide balancing act called the carbon cycle throughout our existence. However, in the last few hundred years, we have taken a larger role. Our activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, are pushing the cycle out of its natural balance, adding more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Natural processes are working hard to keep the carbon cycle in balance by absorbing about half of our carbon emissions, limiting the extent of climate change. There’s a lot we don’t know about these processes, including where they are occurring and how they might change as the climate warms. To understand and prepare for the carbon cycle of the future, we have an urgent need to find out.

This animation shows the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, the first NASA spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. In July 2014, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to study the fate of carbon dioxide worldwide. OCO-2 will not be the first satellite to measure carbon dioxide, but it’s the first with the observational strategy, precision, resolution and coverage needed to answer these questions about these little-monitored regions.

OCO-2’s scientific instrument uses spectrometers, which split sunlight into a spectrum of component colors, or wavelengths. Like all other molecules, carbon dioxide molecules absorb only certain colors of light, producing a unique pattern of dark features in the spectrum. The intensity of the dark features increases as the number of carbon dioxide molecules increases in the air that the spectrometer is looking through.

OCO-2 will collect 24 measurements a second over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere, totaling more than a million measurements each day. Fewer than 20 percent of these measurements will be sufficiently cloud-free to allow an accurate estimate of carbon dioxide, but that number will still yield 100 to 200 times as many measurements as the currently observing Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) mission. The measurements will be used as input for global atmospheric models.

For more information about OCO-2, visit: https://oco.jpl.nasa.gov

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Suppose you had a single hydrogen atom and at a particular instant plotted the position of its electron. Soon afterwards, you do the same thing, and find that it is in a new position. You have no idea how it got from the first place to the second. You keep on doing this over and over again, and gradually build up a sort of 3D map of the places that the electron is likely to be found.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle  says - loosely - that you can’t know with certainty both where an electron is and where it’s going next. That makes it impossible to plot an orbit for an electron around a nucleus, but we have a mathematical function that describes the wave-like behavior of either one electron or a pair of electrons in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an atom in any specific region around the atom’s nucleus.
In the hydrogen case, the electron can be found anywhere within a spherical space surrounding the nucleus. Such a region of space is called an orbital. Orbits and orbitals sound similar, but they have quite different meanings. It is essential that you understand the difference between them. You can think of an orbital as being the region of space in which the electron lives. The GIF animation shows the probability densities for the electron of a hydrogen atom in different quantum states. These orbitals form an orthonormal basis for the wave function of the electron. These shapes are intended to describe the angular forms of regions in space where the electrons occupying the orbital are likely to be found.

Suppose you had a single hydrogen atom and at a particular instant plotted the position of its electron. Soon afterwards, you do the same thing, and find that it is in a new position. You have no idea how it got from the first place to the second. You keep on doing this over and over again, and gradually build up a sort of 3D map of the places that the electron is likely to be found.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle  says - loosely - that you can’t know with certainty both where an electron is and where it’s going next. That makes it impossible to plot an orbit for an electron around a nucleus, but we have a mathematical function that describes the wave-like behavior of either one electron or a pair of electrons in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an atom in any specific region around the atom’s nucleus.

In the hydrogen case, the electron can be found anywhere within a spherical space surrounding the nucleus. Such a region of space is called an orbital. Orbits and orbitals sound similar, but they have quite different meanings. It is essential that you understand the difference between them. You can think of an orbital as being the region of space in which the electron lives. The GIF animation shows the probability densities for the electron of a hydrogen atom in different quantum states. These orbitals form an orthonormal basis for the wave function of the electron. These shapes are intended to describe the angular forms of regions in space where the electrons occupying the orbital are likely to be found.

(Source: goo.gl)


“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Illustration based on a quote by Edward R Harrison. Image Credit: Jacob Schuhle-Lewis

“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Illustration based on a quote by Edward R Harrison. Image Credit: Jacob Schuhle-Lewis

Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001

This Hubble image shows ESO 137-001, a galaxy located in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle) — a delicate and beautiful spiral galaxy, but with a secret. The image not only captures the galaxy and its backdrop in stunning detail, but also something more dramatic — intense blue streaks streaming outwards from the galaxy, seen shining brightly in ultraviolet light.
These streaks are actually hot young stars, encased in wispy streams of gas that are being torn away from the galaxy by its surroundings as it moves through space. This violent galactic disrobing is due to a process known as ram pressure stripping — a drag force felt by an object moving through a fluid . The fluid in question here is superheated gas, which lurks at the centres of galaxy clusters.
This image combines NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC

Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001

This Hubble image shows ESO 137-001, a galaxy located in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle) — a delicate and beautiful spiral galaxy, but with a secret. The image not only captures the galaxy and its backdrop in stunning detail, but also something more dramatic — intense blue streaks streaming outwards from the galaxy, seen shining brightly in ultraviolet light.

These streaks are actually hot young stars, encased in wispy streams of gas that are being torn away from the galaxy by its surroundings as it moves through space. This violent galactic disrobing is due to a process known as ram pressure stripping — a drag force felt by an object moving through a fluid . The fluid in question here is superheated gas, which lurks at the centres of galaxy clusters.

This image combines NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC

Fire and Ice

Saturn’s largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, appear to be stacked on top of each other in this true-color scene from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Titan is likely differentiated into several layers with a 3,400-kilometre (2,100 mi) rocky center surrounded by several layers composed of different crystal forms of ice.Its interior may still be hot and there may be a liquid layer consisting of a “magma" composed of water and ammonia between the ice Ih crust and deeper ice layers made of high-pressure forms of ice.

Rhea is an ice-cold body of weak density (1.236 g/cm3), indicating that the moon consists of a rocky nucleus counting only for a third of the mass of Rhea, the rest being mainly some ice-cold water.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

The City Dark

The pervasive use of artificial lighting not only has fogged the view of astronomers seeking to study the stars, it also has been linked to human health problems, environmental disruptions and fundamental questions about the impact of a disappearing night sky on the intellectual and spiritual curiosity of future generations.

The City Dark is a feature documentary, which explores the philosophical and practical implications of losing the night sky.

Read more here

Attention science enthusiasts! If you’re looking for new science blogs to follow - here’s an excellent list: Part 1 Part 2
That amazing list was put together by the awesome Shychemist, check out his blog, help him expand the list!

Attention science enthusiasts! If you’re looking for new science blogs to follow - here’s an excellent list: Part 1 Part 2

That amazing list was put together by the awesome Shychemist, check out his blog, help him expand the list!


While sunspots are relatively cool and quiescent regions on the Sun, the photosphere around them sometimes erupts with outflows of high energy particles in active regions. Most often these eruptions are in the form of loops and sheets called prominences which remain under the control of the intense magnetic fields associated with solar storms. There are other events which in a matter of minutes can release enormous amounts of energy and eject material out into space. Such violent events are called solar flares.

Images credit: TRACE/NASA

While sunspots are relatively cool and quiescent regions on the Sun, the photosphere around them sometimes erupts with outflows of high energy particles in active regions. Most often these eruptions are in the form of loops and sheets called prominences which remain under the control of the intense magnetic fields associated with solar storms. There are other events which in a matter of minutes can release enormous amounts of energy and eject material out into space. Such violent events are called solar flares.

Images credit: TRACE/NASA

Rhea: Saturn’s Mysterious Moon

Rhea, the second largest moon of Saturn, is a dirty snowball of rock and ice. The only moon with an oxygen atmosphere, thin though it may be, Rhea is one of the most heavily cratered satellites in the solar system.

A very faint oxygen atmosphere exists around Rhea, the first direct evidence of an oxygen atmosphere on a body other than Earth. The atmosphere is thin, with oxygen measuring about 5 trillion times less dense than that found on Earth. Oxygen could be released as the surface is irradiated by ions from Saturn’s magnetosphere. The source of the carbon dioxide is less clear, but could be the result of similar irradiation, or from dry ice much like comets.

On March 6, 2008, NASA announced that Rhea may have a tenuous ring system. This would mark the first discovery of rings about a moon. The rings’ existence was inferred by observed changes in the flow of electrons trapped by Saturn’s magnetic field as Cassini passed by Rhea. Dust and debris could extend out to Rhea’s Hill sphere, but were thought to be denser nearer the moon, with three narrow rings of higher density. The case for a ring was strengthened by the subsequent finding of the presence of a set of small ultraviolet-bright spots distributed along Rhea’s equator (interpreted as the impact points of deorbiting ring material).However, when Cassini made targeted observations of the putative ring plane from several angles, no evidence of ring material was found, but there’s still something around Rhea that is causing a strange, symmetrical structure in the charged-particle environment around Saturn’s second-largest moon.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI,Gordan Ugarkovic

Accretion Disks

Accretion flows are ubiquitous in astrophysics: they occur around protostars, accreting compact objects in binary systems, and supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. Much of professor James M. Stone's work has concerned studies of the local hydrodynamic and magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) processes that can lead to outward angular momentum transport in accretion disks. As computers become more powerful, previous studies of local patches of an accretion flow are being expanded into global studies that encompass the entire disk.

Accretion flows that cannot cool via emission of radiation become vertically thick and nearly spherical. Thus, they are intrinsically multidimensional. To study the structure and evolution of non-radiative accretion flows, 2D (axisymmetric) hydrodynamical simulations were performed using a non-uniform grid that spanned more than two decades in radius.

The most striking property of the flow is the large fluctuations produced by strong convection. Convective eddies transport a lot of mass both inwards and outwards, but the net mass accretion rate is very small and set by the properties of the flow near the inner boundary. A vanishingly small accretion rate may help to explain the deficit of high energy emission observed from accreting compact sources.

While understanding the properties of hydrodynamical accretion flows is important, it is generally agreed that angular momentum transport is in fact mediated by magnetic stresses. Thus, repeating the global simulations of non-radiative accretion flows with MHD calculations is vital.

Credit: James M. Stone

Plasmoids

A plasmoid is a coherent structure of plasma and magnetic fields. Plasmoids have been proposed to explain natural phenomena such as ball lightning, magnetic bubbles in the magnetosphere, and objects in cometary tails, in the solar wind, in the solar atmosphere, and in the heliospheric current sheet. Plasmoids produced in the laboratory include field-reversed configurations, spheromaks, and in dense plasma focuses.

The word plasmoid was coined in 1956 by Winston H. Bostick (1916-1991) to mean a “plasma-magnetic entity”. Bostick went on to apply his theory of plasmoids to astrophysics phenomena. 

Active regions on the solar surface are often the site of eruptions. These are associated with magnetic fields from the solar interior rising to the surface and gradually expanding into the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, in a process known as magnetic flux emergence.

A group of scientists from the University of St Andrews developed 3D computer models of these phenomena, revealing that the emergence of magnetic flux naturally leads to the formation and expulsion of plasmoids that adopt a twisted tube configuration.

The formation of the plasmoids is due to the motion of plasma in the lower atmosphere of the Sun. These motions bring magnetic fieldlines closer together to reconnect and build a new magnetic flux system (i.e. the plasmoid). Whether the plasmoids are ‘failed’ or ‘successful’ (i.e. they erupt into space) depends on the level of interaction between the new emerging field and the old, pre-existing magnetic field in the solar corona.

Credit: Vasilis Archontis

This spring, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will host the new TV series called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. It’s an update of the influential 1980 PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Journey, hosted by Carl Sagan

The thrilling new 13-part series premieres Sunday, March 9 at 9/8c on FOX. Watch the trailer: 1, 2.

The Submillimeter Array telescope unveils how small cosmic seeds grow into big stars

New images from the Smithsonian’s Submillimeter Array (SMA) telescope provide the most detailed view yet of stellar nurseries within the Snake Nebula. These images offer new insights into how cosmic seeds can grow into massive stars.
Stretching across almost 100 light-years of space, the Snake Nebula is located about 11,700 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. In images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, it appears as a sinuous dark tendril against the starry background. It was targeted because it shows the potential to form many massive stars (stars heavier than eight times our Sun).
Full Article

Image Credit: Spitzer/GLIMPSE/MIPS, Herschel/HiGal, Ke Wang (ESO)

The Submillimeter Array telescope unveils how small cosmic seeds grow into big stars

New images from the Smithsonian’s Submillimeter Array (SMA) telescope provide the most detailed view yet of stellar nurseries within the Snake Nebula. These images offer new insights into how cosmic seeds can grow into massive stars.

Stretching across almost 100 light-years of space, the Snake Nebula is located about 11,700 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. In images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, it appears as a sinuous dark tendril against the starry background. It was targeted because it shows the potential to form many massive stars (stars heavier than eight times our Sun).

Full Article

Image Credit: Spitzer/GLIMPSE/MIPS, Herschel/HiGal, Ke Wang (ESO)

 The Bolshoi Simulation

What if you could fly through the universe and see dark matter? While the technology for taking such a flight remains under development, the technology for visualizing such a flight has taken a grand leap forward with the completion of the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation.
After 6 million CPU hours, the world’s seventh fastest supercomputer output many scientific novelties including the above flight simulation. Starting from the relatively smooth dark matter distribution of the early universe discerned from the microwave background and other large sky data sets, the Bolshoi tracked the universe’s evolution to the present epoch shown above, given the standard concordance cosmology. The bright spots in the simulation above are all knots of normally invisible dark matter, many of which contain normal galaxies. Long filaments and clusters of galaxies, all gravitationally dominated by dark matter, become evident.
Statistical comparison between the Bolshoi and current real sky maps of actual galaxies show good agreement. Although the Bolshoi simulation bolsters the existence of dark matter, many questions about our universe remain, including the composition of dark matter, the nature of dark energy, and how the first generation of stars and galaxies formed.
For more information about the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation, click here.

Credit:  A. Klypin (NMSU), J. Primack (UCSC) et al., Chris Henze (NASA Ames), NASA’s Pleiades Supercomputer

The Bolshoi Simulation

What if you could fly through the universe and see dark matter? While the technology for taking such a flight remains under development, the technology for visualizing such a flight has taken a grand leap forward with the completion of the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation.

After 6 million CPU hours, the world’s seventh fastest supercomputer output many scientific novelties including the above flight simulation. Starting from the relatively smooth dark matter distribution of the early universe discerned from the microwave background and other large sky data sets, the Bolshoi tracked the universe’s evolution to the present epoch shown above, given the standard concordance cosmology. The bright spots in the simulation above are all knots of normally invisible dark matter, many of which contain normal galaxies. Long filaments and clusters of galaxies, all gravitationally dominated by dark matter, become evident.

Statistical comparison between the Bolshoi and current real sky maps of actual galaxies show good agreement. Although the Bolshoi simulation bolsters the existence of dark matter, many questions about our universe remain, including the composition of dark matter, the nature of dark energy, and how the first generation of stars and galaxies formed.

  • For more information about the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation, click here.

Credit: A. Klypin (NMSU), J. Primack (UCSC) et al., Chris Henze (NASA Ames), NASA’s Pleiades Supercomputer