What’s New – October, 2015

Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto

The first color images of Pluto’s atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue.

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Pluto’s Blue Sky. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Read the full story from: New Horizons

Liquid Water Still Flows on Mars

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

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Dark narrow streaks, hypothesized to be formed by flow of briny liquid water, emanate from the walls of Garni Crater on Mars, in this view constructed from observations by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Read the full story from: NASA

Curiosity Rover Team Finds Ancient Lake Bed on Mars

Using data from the Curiosity rover, the team has determined that, long ago, water helped deposit sediment into Gale Crater, where the rover landed more than three years ago. The sediment deposited as layers that formed the foundation for Mount Sharp, the mountain found in the middle of the crater today.

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A view from the “Kimberley” formation on Mars taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating flow of water toward a basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Read the full story from: NASA

New Measurements of Pulsating Aurorae

Thanks to a lucky conjunction of two satellites, a ground-based array of all-sky cameras, and some spectacular aurora borealis, researchers have uncovered evidence for an unexpected role that electrons have in creating the dancing auroras.

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Aurora from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Read the full story from: NASA

Strange Ripples Found in Planet Forming Disk

Astronomers are surprised to uncover fast-moving, wave-like features embedded in a planetary disk that are unlike anything ever observed, or even predicted.

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This set of images of a 40-billion-mile-diameter edge-on disk encircling the young star AU Microscopii reveals a string of mysterious wave-like features. Credit for Top Panel: NASA, ESA, G. Schneider (Steward Observatory), and the HST GO 12228 team Credit for Bottom Panels: NASA, ESA, ESO, and A. Boccaletti (Paris Observatory)

Read the full story from: HubbleSite

What’s New – September, 2015

Hubble finds double black hole in nearby galaxy

Hubble Space Telescope astronomers set their sights on the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231, located 581 million light-years away. Black holes — even supermassive ones — are too compact to be resolved by any present-day telescope. So, astronomers did the next best thing, measure all the light from a disk of infalling material around the black hole. The ultraviolet radiation — only measurable by Hubble — revealed evidence for a curious gap in the disk. Instead of being pancake shaped, it looks more like it has a big donut hole. The best explanation for the gap is that two black holes are orbiting each other in a dizzying dance that powers the quasar fireworks. This carves out the gap. The second black hole must have come from a smaller galaxy that merged with Markarian 231 to ignite the quasar about 1 million years ago.

See the full story from: Hubble Space Telescope News Centre

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Hubble image of Markarian 231, the host to a double black hole quasar. Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

Smallest supermassive black hole ever detected

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected in the center of a galaxy. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past.

See the full story from: Chandra X-Ray Observatory

The smallest supermassive black hole ever detected in the center of a galaxy has been identified using observations with Chandra and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope. The host galaxy for the tiny heavyweight black hole is a dwarf disk galaxy called RGG 118, shown in an image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The inset is a Chandra image of the galaxy's center, showing hot gas near the black hole. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how much larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past.

RGG 118: Home to the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/V.F.Baldassare, et al; Optical: SDSS

First ever aurora beyond our solar system

Astronomers have discovered the first aurora ever seen in an object beyond our Solar System. The aurora — similar to the famous “Northern Lights” on Earth — is 10,000 times more powerful than any previously seen. They found the aurora not from a planet, but from a low-mass star at the boundary between stars and brown dwarfs.

See the full story from: National Radio Astronomy Observatory

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Artist conception of an aurora over the polar region of a brown dwarf. Credit: Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan, Caltech.

Diminutive dwarf galaxy unexpectedly a star forming powerhouse

A nearby dwarf galaxy poses an intriguing mystery: How is it able to form brilliant star clusters without the dusty, gas-rich environments found in larger galaxies? The answer, astronomers believe, lies in densely packed and previously unrecognized nuggets of star-forming material sprinkled throughout the galaxy.

See the full story at: National Radio Astronomy Observatory

ALMA discovers an unexpected population of compact interstellar clouds inside the dwarf irregular galaxy WLM. Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); M. Rubio et al., Universidad de Chile, ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); D. Hunter and A. Schruba, VLA (NRAO/AUI/NSF); P. Massey/Lowell Observatory and K. Olsen (NOAO/AURA/NSF)

New detailed images of Ceres bright spots

Early in 2015, mysterious bright spots were discovered on the dwarf planet Ceres by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Now those spots have been observed with the closest-yet views of Occator crater, with a resolution of 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel, give scientists a deeper perspective on these very unusual features. “Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

See the full story from: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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This image, made using images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, shows Occator crater on Ceres, home to a collection of intriguing bright spots. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

New Pluto images from New Horizons

Some amazing new images have just been released!

See the full story from: New Horizons

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Amazing image of Pluto’s Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI