The Starry Sky under Hollow Hill

Look up in New Zealand's Hollow Hill Cave and you might think you see a familiar starry sky. And that's exactly what Arachnocampa luminosa are counting on. Captured in this long exposure, the New Zealand glowworms scattered across the cave ceiling give it the inviting and open appearance of a clear, dark night sky filled with stars. Unsuspecting insects fooled into flying too far upwards get trapped in sticky snares the glowworms create and hang down to catch food. Of course professional astronomers wouldn't be so easily fooled, although that does look a lot like the Coalsack Nebula and Southern Cross at the upper left ... via NASA http://ift.tt/1n77RoL


Spitzer Space Telescope Spots Huge Asteroid Collision

NASA Scientists using Spitzer have seen a huge asteroid collision around another star! I didn't even know this was possible. Read more here: Spitzer Space Telescope Spots Huge Asteroid Collision

The Wizard Nebula

Open star cluster NGC 7380 is still embedded in its natal cloud of interstellar gas and dust popularly known as the Wizard Nebula. Seen with foreground and background stars along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy it lies some 8,000 light-years distant, toward the constellation Cepheus. A full moon would easily fit inside this telescopic view of the 4 million year young cluster and associated nebula, normally much too faint to be seen by eye. Made with telescope and camera firmly planted on Earth, the image reveals multi light-year sized shapes and structures within the Wizard in a color palette made popular in Hubble Space Telescope images. Recorded with narrowband filters, the visible wavelength light from the nebula's hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur atoms is transformed into green, blue, and red colors in the final digital composite. But there is still a trick up the Wizard's sleeve. Sliding your cursor over the image (or following this link) will make the stars disappear, leaving only the cosmic gas and dust of the Wizard Nebula. via NASA http://ift.tt/1u2ZCy5


Hubble Looks at Light and Dark in the Universe

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a variety of intriguing cosmic phenomena. Surrounded by bright stars, towards the upper middle of the frame we see a small young stellar object (YSO) known as SSTC2D J033038.2+303212. Located in the constellation of Perseus, this star is in the early stages of its life and is still forming into a fully-grown star. In this view from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys(ACS) it appears to have a murky chimney of material emanating outwards and downwards, framed by bright bursts of gas flowing from the star itself. This fledgling star is actually surrounded by a bright disk of material swirling around it as it forms — a disc that we see edge-on from our perspective. However, this small bright speck is dwarfed by its cosmic neighbor towards the bottom of the frame, a clump of bright, wispy gas swirling around as it appears to spew dark material out into space. The bright cloud is a reflection nebula known as [B77] 63, a cloud of interstellar gas that is reflecting light from the stars embedded within it. There are actually a number of bright stars within [B77] 63, most notably the emission-line star LkHA 326, and it nearby neighbor LZK 18. These stars are lighting up the surrounding gas and sculpting it into the wispy shape seen in this image. However, the most dramatic part of the image seems to be a dark stream of smoke piling outwards from [B77] 63 and its stars — a dark nebula called Dobashi 4173. Dark nebulae are incredibly dense clouds of pitch-dark material that obscure the patches of sky behind them, seemingly creating great rips and eerily empty chunks of sky. The stars speckled on top of this extreme blackness actually lie between us and Dobashi 4173. European Space Agency Credit: ESA/NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1qLsmMk

Messier 20 and 21

The beautiful Trifid Nebula, also known as Messier 20, is easy to find with a small telescope in the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. About 5,000 light-years away, the colorful study in cosmic contrasts shares this well-composed, nearly 1 degree wide field with open star cluster Messier 21 (top right). Trisected by dust lanes the Trifid itself is about 40 light-years across and a mere 300,000 years old. That makes it one of the youngest star forming regions in our sky, with newborn and embryonic stars embedded in its natal dust and gas clouds. Estimates of the distance to open star cluster M21 are similar to M20's, but though they share this gorgeous telescopic skyscape there is no apparent connection between the two. In fact, M21's stars are much older, about 8 million years old. via NASA http://ift.tt/1zJaz9K


Artist Concept: Space Launch System Takes Flight

Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. The first SLS mission -- Exploration Mission 1 -- will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon and bring it back to Earth to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft’s re-entry and landing prior to a crewed flight. Image credit: NASA/MSFC › Read press release via NASA http://ift.tt/1C6ok6j

Milky Way over Yellowstone

The Milky Way was not created by an evaporating lake. The colorful pool of water, about 10 meters across, is known as Silex Spring and is located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA. Illuminated artificially, the colors are caused by layers of bacteria that grow in the hot spring. Steam rises off the spring, heated by a magma chamber deep underneath known as the Yellowstone hotspot. Unrelated and far in the distance, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy arches high overhead, a band lit by billions of stars. The above picture is a 16-image panorama taken late last month. If the Yellowstone hotspot causes another supervolcanic eruption as it did 640,000 years ago, a large part of North America would be affected. via NASA http://ift.tt/1vkWXDR


Testing Composite Cryotank Technology For Future Deep Space Missions

NASA has completed a complex series of tests on one of the largest composite cryogenic fuel tanks ever manufactured, bringing the aerospace industry much closer to designing, building, and flying lightweight, composite tanks on rockets. At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the tank was lowered into a structural test stand where it was tested with cryogenic hydrogen and structural loads to simulate stresses the tank would experience during launch. The project is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions. Cryogenic propellants are gasses chilled to subfreezing temperatures and condensed to form highly combustible liquids, providing high-energy propulsion solutions critical to future, long-term human exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. In the past, propellant tanks have been fabricated out of metals. Switching from metallic to composite construction holds the potential to dramatically increase the performance capabilities of future space systems through a dramatic reduction in weight. > NASA Completes Successful Battery of Tests on Composite Cryotank Image Credit: NASA/David Olive via NASA http://ift.tt/1sBWCaU


Solar Dynamics Observatory Captures Images of a Late Summer Flare

On Aug. 24, 2014, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 8:16 a.m. EDT. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. 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. This flare is classified as an M5 flare. M-class flares are ten times less powerful than the most intense flares, called X-class flares. Image Credit: NASA/SDO via NASA http://ift.tt/1qJMNFD

Water clouds tentatively detected just 7 light-years from Earth

Image credit: ROB GIZIS, CUNY BMCC

Astronomers have found signs of water ice clouds on an object just 7.3 light-years from Earth—less than twice the distance of Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to the sun. If confirmed, the discovery is the first sighting of water clouds beyond our solar system. The clouds shroud a Jupiter-sized object known as a brown dwarf and should yield insight into the nature of cool giant planets orbiting other suns.

Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, recently discovered the nearby object by using images from NASA’s WISE infrared space telescope, which scanned the sky from 2010 to 2011. A brown dwarf is a failed star and has so little mass that it can't sustain nuclear reactions, so after its birth it fades and cools. This brown dwarf, named WISE J0855-0714, is the coldest known. Its temperature is slightly below the freezing point of water, so it's colder than Earth's mean temperature but warmer than Jupiter’s.

"I've been obsessed with this object since its discovery," says astronomer Jacqueline Faherty of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The new neighbor resembles a giant planet—it's as large as Jupiter and three to 10 times as massive—but is solitary, which means it has no sun whose glare interferes with our view of it. Moreover, it's nearby: the fourth closest system to the sun, after Alpha Centauri, Barnard's star, and Luhman 16.

Still, because the object is small and cold, it's so dim that no ground-based observatory had seen it. "I went to battle at the telescope to try and get this detection," Faherty says. "I wanted to put war paint under my eyes and wear a bandanna, because I knew this was not going to be an easy thing to do. At the telescope, I've never been so nervous. I've never wanted clear conditions so badly."

For 3 nights in May, Faherty used the 6.5-meter Magellan Baade telescope in Chile to acquire 151 near-infrared images that she later combined to yield a detection. "I'm absolutely elated," she says. Moreover, as her team will report in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the observed colors match models of a brown dwarf with clouds of water ice and clouds of sodium sulfide.

"It's incredibly interesting," says Jonathan Fortney of the University of California, Santa Cruz, an astronomer who helped develop those models but was not involved in the discovery. "It's tentative," he says, but "it's the first evidence for water clouds" outside our solar system. Even within the solar system, observers can see water clouds on only Earth and Mars; the giant planets are so cold that ammonia ice clouds cover the water clouds on Jupiter and Saturn while the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune block the view there.

Observers have previously discerned water vapor in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, but Fortney says water clouds are a new phenomenon. "One of the things we don't really know is how common partly cloudiness is," he says. Venus, whose clouds consist of sulfuric acid, is totally cloudy, whereas Earth is partly cloudy. Faherty says the brown dwarf is also partly cloudy: About half is obscured by clouds.

Verifying the discovery will require spectra. Because the object is so dim, this will likely await the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched later this decade.

More here.

Arp 188 and the Tadpoles Tail

Why does this galaxy have such a long tail? In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Draco. Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 - from right to left in this view - and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy's stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail's star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy. via NASA http://ift.tt/1wqsS7g


25 Years Ago, Voyager 2 Captures Images of Neptune

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first glimpse of Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. This picture of Neptune was produced from the last whole planet images taken through the green and orange filters on the Voyager 2 narrow angle camera. The images were taken on Aug. 20, 1989, at a range of 4.4 million miles from the planet, 4 days and 20 hours before closest approach on Aug. 25. The picture shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge; on the west limb the fast moving bright feature called "Scooter" and the little dark spot are visible. These clouds were seen to persist for as long as Voyager's cameras could resolve them. North of these, a bright cloud band similar to the south polar streak may be seen. In the summer of 2015, another NASA mission to the farthest zone of the solar system, New Horizons, will make a historic first close-up study of Pluto. Although a fast flyby, New Horizons' Pluto encounter on July 14, 2015, will not be a replay of Voyager but more of a sequel and a reboot, with a new and more technologically advanced spacecraft and, more importantly, a new cast of characters. Those characters are Pluto and its family of five known moons, all of which will be seen up close for the first time next summer. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1qhmqKQ

Mercurys Transit: An Unusual Spot on the Sun

What's that dot on the Sun? If you look closely, it is almost perfectly round. The dot is the result of an unusual type of solar eclipse that occurred in 2006. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. This time, the planet Mercury took a turn. Like the approach to New Moon before a solar eclipse, the phase of Mercury became a continually thinner crescent as the planet progressed toward an alignment with the Sun. Eventually the phase of Mercury dropped to zero and the dark spot of Mercury crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Mercurian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. From above the cratered planes of the night side of Mercury, the Earth appeared in its fullest phase. Hours later, as Mercury continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Mercurian solar eclipse will occur in 2016. via NASA http://ift.tt/1q9Cz4V


SpaceX Reusable Rocket Prototype Explodes Over Texas

A reusable rocket prototype built by the private spaceflight company SpaceX exploded over the firm's Texas proving grounds Friday (Aug. 22) after an anomaly forced the destruction of the craft. Click here for more.

The Spectre of Veszprem

The city of Veszprem, Hungary was only briefly haunted by this mysterious spectre. On the morning of August 11, its monstrous form hovered in the mist above municipal buildings near the town center. A clue to its true identity is offered by the photographer, though, who reports he took the picture from the top of a twenty story building with the rising Sun directly at his back. That special geometry suggests this is an example of an atmospheric phenomenon called the Glory or sometimes "the Spectre of the Brocken". Also seen from mountain tops and airplanes when looking opposite the Sun, the dramatic apparition is the observer's shadow on clouds or fog, the small droplets of water scattering light back towards the Sun through complex internal reflections. Careful night sky watchers can also encounter this spectre's analog in astronomy, a brightening of zodiacal light opposite the Sun known as the gegenschein. via NASA http://ift.tt/1p10FzY


Comet Jacques, Heart and Soul

On July 13th, a good place to watch Comet Jacques was from Venus. Then, the recently discovered visitor (C/2014 E2) to the inner solar system passed within about 14.5 million kilometers of our sister planet. But the outbound comet will pass only 84 million kilometers from our fair planet on August 28 and is already a fine target for telescopes and binoculars. Two days ago Jacques' greenish coma and straight and narrow ion tail were captured in this telescopic snapshot, a single 2 minute long exposure with a modified digital camera. The comet is flanked by IC 1805 and IC 1848, also known as Cassiopeia's Heart and Soul Nebulae. If you're stuck on planet Earth this weekend you can hunt for Comet Jacques in evening skies, or spot a Venus, Jupiter, crescent Moon triangle before the dawn. via NASA http://ift.tt/YGNSHM


Back Shell Tile Panels Installed on NASA's Orion Spacecraft

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits have installed a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module and are checking the fit next to the middle back shell tile panel. Preparations are underway for Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1. Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first unpiloted test flight of the Orion is scheduled to launch later this year atop a Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface. The two-orbit, four-hour flight test will help engineers evaluate the systems critical to crew safety including the heat shield, parachute system and launch abort system. > Engineers and Technicians Install Protective Shell on NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Image Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis via NASA http://ift.tt/1BKpEvF

Venus and Jupiter at Dawn

On Monday morning, Venus and Jupiter gathered close in dawn skies, for some separated by about half the width of a full moon. It was their closest conjunction since 2000, captured here above the eastern horizon before sunrise. The serene and colorful view is from Istia beach near the city of Capoliveri on the island of Elba. Distant lights and rolling hills are along Italy's Tuscan coast. Of course, the celestial pair soon wandered apart. Brighter Venus headed lower, toward the eastern horizon and the glare of the Sun, while Jupiter continues to rise a little higher now in the sky near dawn. The two brightest planets meet again next June 30th, in the evening twilight above the western horizon. via NASA http://ift.tt/1ofpXV0


Supernova Seen In Two Lights

The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. The bubbly cloud is an irregular shock wave, generated by a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth 3,700 years ago. The remnant itself, called Puppis A, is around 7,000 light-years away, and the shock wave is about 10 light-years across. The pastel hues in this image reveal that the infrared and X-ray structures trace each other closely. Warm dust particles are responsible for most of the infrared light wavelengths, assigned red and green colors in this view. Material heated by the supernova’s shock wave emits X-rays, which are colored blue. Regions where the infrared and X-ray emissions blend together take on brighter, more pastel tones. The shock wave appears to light up as it slams into surrounding clouds of dust and gas that fill the interstellar space in this region. From the infrared glow, astronomers have found a total quantity of dust in the region equal to about a quarter of the mass of our sun. Data collected from Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph reveal how the shock wave is breaking apart the fragile dust grains that fill the surrounding space. Supernova explosions forge the heavy elements that can provide the raw material from which future generations of stars and planets will form. Studying how supernova remnants expand into the galaxy and interact with other material provides critical clues into our own origins. Infrared data from Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer (MIPS) at wavelengths of 24 and 70 microns are rendered in green and red. X-ray data from XMM-Newton spanning an energy range of 0.3 to 8 kiloelectron volts are shown in blue. Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/IAFE via NASA http://ift.tt/1phZM5k

Intermediate-mass black holes exist!

 Image of the M82 Galaxy taken by Hubble Space Telescope

While stellar mass black holes (with tens of Solar masses) and supermassive black holes (up to billions of Solar masses) have been widely studied, the existence of black holes with intermediate masses has been uncertain.
A recently published paper in Nature has looked at a black hole in the galaxy M82. Using the measurements of X-ray oscillations and scaling relations observed in stellar mass black holes, they estimate this black hole to have a mass of ~400 Solar mass. This places it within the range of the previously unconfirmed intermediate mass black holes.

Read more at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13710.html

Herschel’s View of a Neighboring Planetary System

A far infrared look at Tau Ceti, the second closest sun-like star. In 2013 it was found to have 5 planets, and a debris disk. A very interesting system!! Click here to learn more about what it looks like in the far infrared.


Has Dark Matter been detected?

Gas in Central Region of Perseus Cluster

Astronomers studying galactic clusters have found an x-ray signal that seems to be unrelated to any previously known elements or reactions. Although the researchers are urging us to take caution, could this be the first detection dark matter?


Star Explosion's Strange Shape Revealed in 3D (Video)

A double-lobed star explosion seen by the Hubble Space Telescope has a more complicated backstory than astronomers ever imagined, according to a 3D model of the ill-fated star's eruption. For more click here


NASA Probe May Have Caught Dust from Interstellar Space, a First

Seven tiny grains of rock captured by NASA's comet-chasing Stardust probe in 2004 may be visitors from the vast reaches of interstellar space, researchers say. Click here for more


Travelling through space and time

So two of the biggest science fiction shows, both Star Trek and Dr Who, get papers on possible mechanisms for getting them to work! The Star trek one is probably nearer to reality but a good read to infuse the imagination!!

Warp drive: click here    and the TARDIS: click here

Warp Drive:


Stunning pictures of Italy and Spain from ISS

Well these are awesome, especially that you can see lava at the top of Mt. Etna in Sicily!!!


Setting up Sublime Text 3 for Python

So for any programmers out there who don't know about Sublime, use it. For those who do, this is a really cool article about some of the great functionality you can add, specifically for python. (I highly recommend the Anaconda package! Click here for more: https://realpython.com/blog/python/setting-up-sublime-text-3-for-full-stack-python-development/

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

One of the year's most dazzling meteor showers peaks overnight tonight, and you can watch the shooting star display online if clouds or bright city lights ruin your view of the sky.


Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, August 2014


Full (super) moon: Sunday 10th August 7:09 pm BST

Perseid meteor shower peak: August 13th 6:00 am BST

Jupiter and Venus: August 18th 5:00 am BST

Saturn and the Moon: August 31, late evening

More info here: http://www.space.com/16149-night-sky.html?cmpid=514630_20140810_28938006


Big Bang Caused by Black hole?

What caused the big bang? A black hole in a four dimensional space? Apparently the maths is solid and it may be testable? Click here to read more if you are brave: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140807145618.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Ftop_news%2Ftop_science+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Top+Science+News%29

How big is Rosetta's comet?

The answer... pretty darn big! Rosetta's target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is about 4 kilometres wide. Here it is presented alongside some of Earth's landmarks. Credit and more information here: http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/54245-how-big-is-rosettas-comet/


UK to Launch Commercial Spaceport by 2018

The U.K. might get a space port relatively soon, maybe there is hope yet! Easy jetting into space?

"The U.K. government is laying the groundwork for its first spaceport in anticipation of a growing space tourism demand and a growing space plane industry by 2030, according to a new timetable. Government officials also envision orbital launches from that country within the next 15 years."

Postcards from Rosetta

Now that we have Rosetta in orbit, there are some amazing pictures being taken. I am sure there will be many more to come! For more see:  http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta/Highlights/Postcards_from_Rosetta


Alabama Fireball of August 2, 2014

An amazing meteoroid fireball, seen over Alabama a few days ago. These images never fail to amaze and scare me at the wonders that await unseen in the nearby universe! For more click here: http://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/2014/08/05/alabama-fireball-of-august-2-2014/

Planet-like object may have spent its youth as hot as a star

Some work I have been involved in, led by my supervisor Prof. David Pinfield.

"WISE J0304-2705: A Planet-like object [Y dwarf] may have spent its youth as hot as a star"

For paper click here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1408.0284 

"Astronomers have discovered an extremely cool object that could have a particularly diverse history - although it is now as cool as a planet, it may have spent much of its youth as hot as a star. The team publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The current temperature of the object is 100-150 degrees Celsius, intermediate between that of the Earth and Venus. But the object shows evidence of a possible ancient origin, implying that a large change in temperature has taken place. In the past this object would have been as hot as a star for many millions of years...."

How to make a Python GUI (Graphics User Interface)

Bit off topic from the usual astronomy. But recently I needed a way to make a GUI, and as I use Python a lot, it seemed the logical option to make a nice simple easy to use GUI. The module Tkinter seems to be one of the best options to use and a basic tutorial can be found here: http://sebsauvage.net/python/gui/. If you are using Anaconda for running python (see earlier post) this module comes installed and ready to use with some other really nice modules.

Tkinter: Run the GUI, add buttons, input fields, text, menu bars etc...
tkFileDialog: To add filebrowers for saving and opening files
tkMessageBox: For all those really annoying pop up boxes

Basic structure seems to be using a "Application Class" with methods for initializing the "widgets" (i.e. the buttons, input fields and text etc) and then I have found storing all the input data to a dictionary seems to be the easiest way of doing it.

Also had to use an image module to import some pictures and for that a module called PIL seems fairly useful (Also installed by default on Anaconda)!

Rosetta as arrived at Comet 67p and manoeuvre successfully!

After a decade-long journey chasing its target, Rosetta has today become the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet

Click here for more information


Perseids 2014 - Unfortunately lots of moonshine!

So the peak of the Perseids Meteor Shower is on August 12th, but nearly a full moon, but the bright ones should still be visible!