Bluring the lines – an active asteroid #NASASDawn #Ceres


Asteroids are the left overs, the non-planets, the bits that never quite formed that missing planet between Mars and Jupiter. Because of this, they are small, cold, dead. Except when they is an exception to the rule. And Ceres is that exception

On the same day Pluto was demoted to Dwarf Planets, Ceres got promoted *to* Dwarf Planet. It is clearly and asteroid belt object, but it is much bigger than the other asteroids. So big that it was once alive and (barely) active. In 2015 the NASA Dawn spacecraft imaged a volcano on Ceres. The mystery was that it was the only one on the whole body. As Michael Sori of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, lead author of a new paper accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters states,“Imagine if there was just one volcano on all of Earth. That would be puzzling.”

In this new research Dr Sori posits Viscous relaxation as the solution to this conumdrum. More mysteries, more answers, more knowledge gained about our solar system.

The Search for Planet X #PlanetKiller #PlanetFinder



Pluto is now King of the distant dwarf planets, but are there other larger planets out there?

The six most distant known objects in the solar system with orbits exclusively beyond Neptune (magenta) all mysteriously line up in a single direction. Moreover, when viewed in three-dimensions, they are all tilted nearly identically away from the plane of the solar system. Such an orbital alignment can only be maintained by some outside force. In a new paper, Batygin and Brown show that a planet with 10 times the mass of the earth in a distant eccentric orbit anti-aligned with the other six objects (orange) is required to maintain this configuration.


The universe is playing fair #CosmologicalPrinciple

The cosmological principle states that we’re not in a special place. In essence, the chunk of the universe we see is a fair and unbiased sample of the entire universe. Only if this is true, can we then proceed to claim that things we find out about the universe we can see are actual truths about the entire Universe. It is the bedrock of all scientific knowledge. If true, it leads to two features about the distribution of matter  – stuff should be homogeneous (i.e., uniform) and isotropic (i.e., the same in all directions). Note, our solar system is neither, our galaxy is neither, and even our local cluster of galaxies is neither. But on really large size scales, these two principles are true via observations. New simulations now agree with this. So, you’re not special, and this is a good thing.

Cosmologists show that universe is expanding uniformly

The universe is expanding uniformly according to research led by University College London (UCL) which reports that space isn’t stretching in a preferred direction or spinning. The new research, just published in Physical Review Letters, studied the cosmic microwave background (CMB) which is the remnant radiation from the Big Bang. It shows the universe expands the same way in all directions, supporting the assumptions made in cosmologists’ standard model of the universe.


Not quite a planet, not quite an asteroid #Centaur

Scientific classifications are not usually clean. Usually when we think we have objects classified into groups, along comes a new piece of data that blurs the line. Centaurs are one of these blurring data points. They are the same size and (mostly) the same composition as asteroids. But they exist in a different location, between Jupiter and Neptune, NOT between Jupiter and Mars. And most confusing, they have rings. New research now shows the origins of these rings – turns out these two aspects of strange location and presence of rings are connected! In an orbit so far out from the Sun, they get pulled and pushed by the large planets, breaking them up, and forming the rings.

Add confusing facet number 1 to confusing facet number 2, and both elements of confusion are explained.


Origin of minor planets’ rings revealed


Curiouser and curiouser #niku


‘Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice.

The best part of science is not when observations fit a standing theory. Instead we prefer it when things tend to not fit. Then it gets interesting.

The smoking gun of #SolarFlares @ProfMcAteer

How do you observe something so fast, so hot, so dense?

“You have to be watching at the right time, at the right angle, with the right instruments to see a current sheet,” said @ProfMcAteer. “It’s hard to get all those ducks in a row.”


Big Data for Big Questions

Astronomers with big questions like ‘How did we get here’, ‘What was there at the beginning’ and ‘What is out fate’. So it feels inevitable that answering these should be hard, and we should approach the question with caution. After all, we cannot simply believe in our answers, instead we need to agree with evidence-based conclusions drawn from data. As our questions delve us deeper and deeper into these mysteries, we need more and more data. And therein lies the biggest problem facing us today-  how do we deal with such Big Data.

The Guardian newspaper recently published an article on this.

Astronomical data is and has always been big data. Once that was only true metaphorically, now it is true in all senses. We acquire it far more rapidly than the rate at which we can process, analyse and exploit it. This means we are creating a vast global repository that may already hold answers to some of the fundamental questions of the Universe we are seeking.

Does this mean we should cancel our up-coming missions and telescopes – after all why continue to order food when the table is replete? Of course not. What it means is that, while we continue our inevitable yet budget limited advancement into the future, so we must also simultaneously do justice to the data we have already acquired.

Citizen science is one solution. Sites like Galaxyzoo and other projects on simultaneously engage the public and perform a vital scientific role.

But the near future presents a new set of problems..

Thus far, human ingenuity, and current technology have ensured that data storage capabilities have kept pace with the massive output of the electronic stargazers. The real struggle is now figuring out how to search and synthesize that output.20150420-CompletedTMA

The DKI solar telescope in Hawai will produce 15-20Tbyte of data per day, starting 2017. We need to be able to visualiize that, make it science-ready, and then transport it across the internet. As such we are looking at new ways of data mining, machine learning and database systems to help us understand out nearest and star.

It seems that the original science of data, astronomy, has a lot to learn from the new kid on the block, data science. Think about it. What if, as we strive to acquire and process more photons from across the farther reaches of the universe, from ever more exotic sources with even more complex instrumentation, that somewhere in a dusty server on Earth, the answers are already here, if we would just only pick up that dataset and look at it … possibly for the first time.

Is the man on the moon a plumbing system? #Procellarum #ManOnMoon

Science is great. We think we have a problem solved, all the loose ends tied up, and then up pops a new discovery. Some see this as evidence of science’s fragility. Of course those people don’t understand the scientific method. In science, nothing is sacred, nothing is sacrosanct, everything is open to new data.

The latest episode to remind us of the power of the scientific method involves the Man on the Moon – the dark region known as Procellarum that is easily visible from Earth. As one of many Lunar Maria, we automatically thought it formed the same way as the other Maria – a late giant impact broke through the surface and cause lava to flow up, which then cooled as the dark material we see. But new data obtained by NASA’s GRAIL mission reveals that the Procellarum region likely arose not from a massive asteroid strike, but from a large plume of magma deep within the moon’s interior.

Scientists have created a map of the Procellarum, and found that its border is not circular, but polygonal, composed of sharp angles. These could not have been created by a massive asteroid. Instead, it is more likely that these were produced by giant tension cracks in the moon’s crust as it cooled around an upwelling plume of hot material from the deep interior. As cracks occurred, they formed a “plumbing system” in the moon’s crust through which magma could meander to the surface.

So it turns out that we were right about the lava flow part, but at least for this Maria, we were probably wrong about how the lava came up.

Planet earth, meet planet


Astronomers have confirmed the existence of almost 1000 planets orbiting distant stars (as of May 31, 2013). And we have several thousand more candidate planets. But how many have we seen directly? Answer: almost none.

And it isn’t because they are too small- we can small objects, or because they are too dim- we can see dim objects. The problem is that they are too close to bright objects, their parent star. It’s like looking for a match, beside a lighthouse lamp. Turn the lighthouse off and you can see it. A new tweak on an old method in optical physics, an adaptive optics, can be used to blank out the star.

So far, astronomers have directly observed only a dozen exoplanets. The image below shows the lightest one imaged so far, announced by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on June 3, 2013. The blue circle in the image below is the size of the orbit of Neptune – 8th planet from the sun in our solar system. The star in the center is HD 95086, located about 300 light-years away. The likely planet appears as a faint but clear dot close to the star.


See it all – Moon, Jupiter, aldebaran, Pleiades, Orion, Taurus


A great chance to see so much tonight. Look west at sunset to see the lazy crescent moon, lying on its back. You simply can’t miss Jupiter nearby because it’s the brightest starlike object in the evening sky – brighter than any star. Now look to the left – see three stars in a line that make up Orions’s belt. Between the moon and Orion you’ll see a set of stars in a V shape. They make up the face and horns of Taurus the bull. The brightest star of that V is Aldebaran- the eye of the bull – a star in the twilight of its life. Now the hardest part. Look right of the moon and Jupiter and you see a small fuzzy blob called Pleiadas, one of the few constellations where the stars are actually close to each other in space. The Pleiades star cluster is composed of hundreds of stars that were born out of the same vast cloud of gas and dust in space. The Pleiades stars are still moving together through the galaxy. If you have binoculars, use them to get a better view of the Pleiades cluster. It won’t be much longer before Pleiades drops out of the evening sky.

A wonderful opportunity to recognize celestial objects far and near.