Young Stars Like IRAS 12196-6300 Display Prominent Emission Lines

With characteristics indicating the presence of specific atoms and molecules

Showcased at the centre of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is an emission-line star known as IRAS 12196-6300. Located just under 2300 light-years from Earth, this star displays prominent emission lines, meaning that the star’s light, dispersed into a spectrum, shows up as a rainbow of colours marked with a characteristic pattern of dark and bright lines. The characteristics of these lines, when compared to the “fingerprints” left by particular atoms and molecules, can be used to reveal IRAS 12196-6300’s chemical composition. Under 10 million years old and not yet burning hydrogen at its core, unlike the Sun, this star is still in its infancy. Further evidence of IRAS 12196-6300’s youth is provided by the presence of reflection nebulae. These hazy clouds, pictured floating above and below IRAS 12196-6300, are created when light from a star reflects off a high concentration of nearby dust, such as the dusty material still remaining from IRAS 12196-6300’s formation.
Showcased at the centre of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is an emission-line star known as IRAS 12196-6300.

Space news (April 01, 2016) – looking for the chemical fingerprints of atoms and molecules in the spectrum of a star 2,300 light-years from Earth –

The bright, young star near the center of the Hubble image above is IRAS 12196-6300, a star showing signs of infancy in the presence of smoky clouds of gas and dust seen floating above and below it. In this case, created as light from the star reflects off high concentrations of nearby dust leftover from its formation.

At just under ten million years old, IRAS 12196-6300 hasn’t started burning hydrogen at its core. The light from this star, when broken into a spectrum using a prism, breaks into hundreds, even thousands, of segments separated by dark gaps, or “lines”. Each dark gap is the result of a specific chemical element in the outer solar gasses absorbing light from the continuous, unbroken spectrum generated by the star.

The eventual strength of the dark gap (absorption line) – the amount of continuous solar spectrum absorbed – is directly related to the abundance of each specific chemical element in the outer solar gasses. By comparing characteristics of absorption lines and doing additional experiments astronomers are able to determine relative elemental abundances in the outer solar gasses of a star.

Learn more about the building of the biggest telescope in history, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and plans to shoot “The Universe: The Motion Picture using this state-of-the-art eye-on-the-sky.

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Read about Goseck Henge, believed to be the oldest solar observatory found.

Learn more about the things astronomers have discovered by analyzing light from stars here.

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Next Generation Super-sized Earth-based Telescopes

The Giant Magellan Telescope

A side view of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Credit: GMTO Corporation
A side view of the Giant Magellan Telescope.
Credit: GMTO Corporation

Space news (March 31, 2016) – high up on an Andes Mountain peak in Las Campanas, Chile – 

High up on the dry, barren Cerro Las Campanas in the Atacama Desert in Chile construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) began on November 11, 2015. The latest of many state-of-the-art telescopes housed in the Las Campanas Observatory, the GMT implements primary mirrors that are a marvel of modern engineering and glassmaking. Part of a new breed of super-giant-sized ground-based telescopes, it’s designed to open windows peering into unknown regions of the cosmos.  

Sunset over the GMT, work begins. Credit: GMTO Corporation
Sunset over the GMT, work begins.
Credit: GMTO Corporation

Six 27-foot (8.4 meters) mirror segments surround a central mirror, forming an optical surface 80-feet in diameter with a total light-collecting area of 3961 sq ft (386 square meters). Light from the edge of the cosmos will reflect off of the primary mirrors, strike seven smaller, flexible secondary mirrors, and then hit the center mirror before heading to advanced CCD imaging devices. The concentrated light is then measured to determine distance and composition of the material at the edge of the universe. 

The first GMT primary mirror segment on the polishing machine at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. Credit: GMTO Corporation
The first GMT primary mirror segment on the polishing machine at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab.
Credit: GMTO Corporation

Utilizing a flexible secondary mirror with a surface capable of adjusting to counteract atmospheric turbulence, the GMT will have a resolving power ten times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. Gathering more light than any telescope ever designed or engineered, controlled by advanced, state-of-the-art computers, it will transform twinkling lights into clear, steady points of light. Known as “adaptive optics” the actuators under the surface of the secondary mirrors constantly adjust, allowing the GMT to see through the Earth’s atmosphere. 

The light gathering ability and resolution of the GMT can image light reflected off of exoplanets orbiting stars light-years away, despite the glare of the host star. One day, light reflected off a rocky planet, much like Earth, will fall upon the mirror assembly of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Analysis of the light will show a blue planet, with oxygen in the atmosphere and soil, much like Earth. A planet capable of acting as a cradle for a new human Genesis, if we can travel to it? 

Perched on a dry Andes mountain at 8,500 ft (2,550 meters), the air above the telescope’s clear and clean, and the night sky dark. From here, the GMT will give us insight into the makeup of stellar matter that formed the first galaxies to appear after the Big Bang. The mystery of dark matter and dark energy and the ultimate fate of our universe. The destinations and secrets of the cosmos it reveals will alter our view of reality and understanding of the bigger universe. The Giant Magellan Telescope’s our next great spaceship-to-the-stars.

Boarding passes available sometime in 2021! 

Watch this YouTube video on the GMT.

Read about the weird light signal being emitted by two orbiting black holes destined to merge.

Read about clues found by astronomers concerning the formation and evolution of the Milky Way.

Learn more about astronomers confirmation of data proving an ocean of liquid water exists beneath the ice.

Learn more about the Giant Magellan Telescope here.

Discover the secrets of the Las Campanas Observatory.

Take the journey of NASA here.

Next Generation Explorer-class Planet Finder

TESS: Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

This artist's depiction of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Credit: TESS team
This is an artist’s depiction of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Credit: TESS team

Space news (March 28, 2016) – Searching 200,000 stars looking for transiting Earth-togas giant size bodies passing in front of their home sun in relation to Sol

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite’s (TESS) a next generation planet-finding spacecraft designed to enable the search for Earth 2.0. TESS will conduct a three-year mission to monitor the brightness of over 200,000 suns, looking for temporary drops in brightness as exoplanets pass in front of their parent sun in relation to Earth. It will undertake the first two-year all-sky transit survey to identify exoplanets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting at a range of orbital distances and various stellar types. TESS will search for small rocky planets lying within the Goldilocks zone of their home stars we could call Earth 2.0.

Earth 2.0 refers to an exoplanet suitable for Earth-based life to survive and prosper, with the ingredients-of-life humans need to continue as a species. Astrophysicists expect TESS to detect more than 3000 transiting exoplanet candidates, including about 500 Earth-sized to Super-sized bodies, less than twice Earth’s radius. Planetary scientists will catalog the brightest and nearest suns to Sol with transiting rocky exoplanets. 

This catalog of prime candidates for Earth 2.0 is scheduled for additional study using current Earth and space-based telescopes. In the future, astrophysicists will use the James Webb Space Telescope and new ground-based instruments to take a closer look at each candidate. These follow-up observations will refine measurements of each planets’ mass, radius, density and atmospheric conditions. The hope is to identify exoplanets with the right ingredients-of-life, which could act as a cradle for the next human Genesis. The world we could one day live on!

Launch’s just months away

The tentative working launch date for TESS is August of 2017, but June 2018 could be closer to the mark. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and deliver it to the correct orbital position. From its position high above the Earth, TESS will survey the night sky looking for slight dips in the brightness of distant stars as unseen exoplanets pass in front. Slight dips that could reveal the existence of an exoplanet where life could exist. A place called Earth 2.0!

Watch this YouTube video on TESS.

Read about the launch of X-ray satellite “Hitomi”, “Pupil of the Eye”.

Learn more about the recent observation of gravitational waves by LIGO.

Read about mysterious ripples observed moving across the planet-forming region of a young star.

Learn more about the search for Earth 2.0.

Take the voyage of NASA here.

Learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope.

Discover the mission of TESS here.

The Universe: The Motion Picture

Space news (March 27, 2016) – 

The inside of the dome and the night sky provide a backdrop for this artist's conception of a close-up view of the telescope. The LSST will carry out a deep, ten-year imaging survey in six broad optical bands over the main survey area of 18,000 square degrees. Credit: Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation
The inside of the dome and the night sky provide a backdrop for this artist’s conception of a close-up view of the telescope. The LSST will carry out a deep, ten-year imaging survey in six broad optical bands over the main survey area of 18,000 square degrees.
Credit: Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

High up on a wind-swept Cerro Pachon ridge in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in north-central Chile construction on site facilities for a new breed of telescope started in July 2014. Called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the next-generation telescopic system being constructed will take more than 800 panoramic images each night during a ten-year assignment to map the visible sky. Its mission to create an animated, three-dimensional motion picture of the universe and reveal secrets of the cosmos.

Super detailed, high resolution cut-away render of the telescope model showing the inner workings. Zoom in on this one; it's worth a closer look. LSST Project/J. Andrew
Super detailed, a high-resolution cut-away render of the telescope model showing the inner workings. Zoom in on this one; it’s worth a closer look.
LSST Project/J. Andrew

From its normally deserted mountaintop site approximately 60 miles (100 km) inland by road from La Serena, the LSST will survey the night sky, recording the entire visible universe in its wide field-of-view twice each week. Capable of detecting faint objects as much as 10 million times fainter than can be seen with the human eye, this new breed telescope will peer into the darkest mysteries confounding modern astronomy. From the location of dark matter to the properties of dark energy to the formation and evolution of the Milky Way to tracking near-Earth asteroids that could change our way of life forever.

The public will also take part in the science goals of the LSST and learn new things about the universe as astronomers discover them as never before. Citizen scientists will extend the science goals of the LSST, gain knowledge, and skills. Students in classrooms across the nation will be engaged to take part in science programs, gain skills, and astronomy knowledge. Promoting astronomy research, awareness of LSST programs, and public participation in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Construction continues

Construction at the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope site is scheduled to finish sometime in 2020 and full science operations to begin sometime around 2022. One of the most important events in the future of ground-based astronomy, the night the LSST begins scanning the sky, a window peering into unknown regions of the cosmos opens.

Watch this YouTube video on the LSST.

Read about Chandra detects X-rays emitted as material falls into a supermassive black hole.

Learn more about merging supermassive black holes.

Read about US Congress recognizing the right of American citizens to own asteroid resources they happen to find.

Learn more about the LSST.

Follow NASA here.

The Icy Blue Wings of Hen 2-437

A wintery bipolar planetary nebula

In this cosmic snapshot, the spectacularly symmetrical wings of Hen 2-437 show up in a magnificent icy blue hue. Hen 2-437 is a planetary nebula, one of around 3000 such objects known to reside within the Milky Way. Located within the faint northern constellation of Vulpecula (The Fox), Hen 2-437 was first identified in 1946 by Rudolph Minkowski, who later also discovered the famous and equally beautiful M2-9 (otherwise known as the Twin Jet Nebula). Hen 2-437 was added to a catalogue of planetary nebula over two decades later by astronomer and NASA astronaut Karl Gordon Henize. Planetary nebulae such as Hen 2-437 form when an aging low-mass star — such as the Sun — reaches the final stages of life. The star swells to become a red giant, before casting off its gaseous outer layers into space. The star itself then slowly shrinks to form a white dwarf, while the expelled gas is slowly compressed and pushed outwards by stellar winds. As shown by its remarkably beautiful appearance, Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula — the material ejected by the dying star has streamed out into space to create the two icy blue lobes pictured here.
In this cosmic snapshot, the spectacularly symmetrical wings of Hen 2-437 show up in a magnificent icy blue hue. Hen 2-437 is a planetary nebula, one of around 3000 such objects known to reside within the Milky Way. Located within the faint northern constellation of Vulpecula (The Fox), Hen 2-437 was first identified in 1946 by Rudolph Minkowski, who later also discovered the famous and equally beautiful M2-9 (otherwise known as the Twin Jet Nebula). Credit: Hubble/NASA/ESA 

Space news (March 09, 2016) – deep within the faint northern constellation Vulpecula (The Fox) –

Just one of over 3,000 spectacular planetary nebula astronomers have detected hidden within the Milky Way, the stunningly symmetrical icy blue wings of Hen 2-437 float upon the stars of Vulpecula in the Hubble image above. 

Just an icy blue cosmic moth adrift upon a sea of stars, Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula similar to hourglass shaped PN Hb 12 (Hubble 12) and the stunning M2-9 (The Twin Jet Nebula).

An example of a sun-like star in the final stages of its life cycle, material ejected by the dying star streamed outward into space to create the two icy blue wings of Hen 2-427 seen here. 

Sol will one day, billions of years in the future, swell to become a red giant and then expel its gaseous outer layers into space. Shrinking down to form a white dwarf, while ejected material is slowly compressed and pushed outward by stellar winds. The cast off gas streams outward into space to form the two icy blue lobes of Hen 2-437.

Watch this video on the icy blue wings of Hen 2-437

Learn more about two black holes astronomers believe are destined to collide.

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Learn more about the youngest, closest black hole to Sol.

Follow the journey of NASA across the solar system and stars here.

Learn more about bipolar planetary nebula.

Learn more about Wolf-Rayet stars.

Wolf-Rayet Star WR 31a Blows Hubble a Bubble

An interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gasses expanding at a rate of around 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) per hour 

Sparkling at the centre of this beautiful NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a Wolf–Rayet star known as WR 31a, located about 30 000 light-years away in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). The distinctive blue bubble appearing to encircle WR 31a, and its uncatalogued stellar sidekick, is a Wolf–Rayet nebula — an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases. Created when speedy stellar winds interact with the outer layers of hydrogen ejected by Wolf–Rayet stars, these nebulae are frequently ring-shaped or spherical. The bubble — estimated to have formed around 20 000 years ago — is expanding at a rate of around 220 000 kilometres per hour! Unfortunately, the lifecycle of a Wolf–Rayet star is only a few hundred thousand years — the blink of an eye in cosmic terms. Despite beginning life with a mass at least 20 times that of the Sun, Wolf–Rayet stars typically lose half their mass in less than 100 000 years. And WR 31a is no exception to this case. It will, therefore, eventually end its life as a spectacular supernova, and the stellar material expelled from its explosion will later nourish a new generation of stars and planets.
Credit: NASA/ESA

Space news (March 11, 2016) – 30,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina (The Keel) – 

The Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a, near the centre of this Hubble image, is a bright celestial beacon ejecting hydrogen in layers that are interacting with extremely fast-moving stellar winds to produce the ring-shaped bubble of an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other gases viewed. 

Wolf-Rayet stars are the most massive stars detected during the human journey to the stars. WR 31a started life with over 20 times the mass of Sol. Our Sun is a main sequence star which is actually a little bigger than average. The more mass a star has, the shorter its expected life, which accounts for the short life span of this bright celestial beacon. In the words of NASA, massive stars “Live fast and die hard”. 

The mass of WR 31a puts it at the lower end of the mass scale for Wolf-Rayet stars, with the most massive estimates coming in at over 200 times the mass of our sun. The estimates of the mass of this type of star are still being worked on, so don’t take them to heart. 

Astronomers estimate WR 31a is only 20,000 years old, give or take a few thousand, which is around 10 percent of its life expectancy according to current theory. The life cycle of Wolf-Rayet stars is only a couple hundreds thousand years long, a mere blink of the eye in cosmic terms, which means this massive star will end its days as a spectacular supernova. 

The event we refer to as supernova is an essential part of the life cycle of the cosmos. Deep within these massive stars, the building blocks of the cosmos are created. It’s here the carbon, magnesium, calcium, and other elements that make up 4-5 percent of the universe are made using the extreme conditions that exist. 

We’re all stardust traveling on a pale-blue dot in the distance, across the vastness of space-time to an unknown but dreamed of ending. 

Watch this YouTube video on Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a.

Read about astronomers viewing gravitational waves for the first time.

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Read about mysterious waves detected moving across the planet-forming region of a nearby star.

You can learn more about Wolf-Rayet stars here. Talk to an astronomer about it here.

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Learn more about the birth and death of stars here

Learn more about the supernova

NASA’s Chandra Detects X-rays Emitted by Distant Supermassive Black Hole

Discovery shows distant supermassive black holes with relativistic jets could be more common than astronomers first thought 

This main panel graphic shows Chandra’s X-ray data that have been combined with an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey. (Note that the two sources near the center of the image do not represent a double source, but rather a coincidental alignment of the distant jet and a foreground galaxy.) The inset shows more detail of the X-ray emission from the jet detected by Chandra. The length of the jet in 0727+409 is at least 300,000 light years. Many long jets emitted by supermassive black holes have been detected in the nearby Universe, but exactly how these jets give off X-rays has remained a matter of debate. In B3 0727+409, it appears that the CMB is being boosted to X-ray wavelengths. Credit: NASA/Chandra
This main panel graphic shows Chandra’s X-ray data that have been combined with an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey. (Note that the two sources near the center of the image do not represent a double source, but rather a coincidental alignment of the distant jet and a foreground galaxy.)
The inset shows more detail of the X-ray emission from the jet detected by Chandra. 
Credit: NASA/Chandra

Space news (March 06, 2016) – over 11 billion light-years from Earth – 

Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory recently discovered a distant, powerful jet emanating from a quasar called B3 0727+409 while observing another stellar object. The system discovered was interesting because scientists had previously found very few early supermassive black holes with powerful jets giving off X-rays. This discovery has astronomers looking for data to confirm the belief supermassive black holes with powerful jets were more common during the first few billion years after the Big Bang than first thought. 

Astronomers were lucky to detect this quasar since no radio signal has been detected from this object. Normally, they would detect similar quasars using radio observations but will use this opportunity to study how these jets emit X-rays. This question has been a matter of debate among astrophysicists, but in this case, they have a few clues to follow.  

We essentially stumbled onto this remarkable jet because it happened to be in Chandra’s field of view while we were observing something else,” explains co-author Lukasz Stawarz of Jagiellonian University in Poland. 

The light from the jet emanating from quasar B3 0727+409 was emitted when the universe was only 2.7 billion years old, or just over twenty percent of its present age. At this time the intensity of the microwave background microwave radiation (CMB) remaining after the Big Bang was much greater than today. In this case, it looks like the CMB is somehow being boosted to X-ray wavelengths and astronomers think this could be a lead. 

Because we’re seeing this jet when the Universe was less than three billion years old, the jet is about 150 times brighter in X-rays than it would be in the nearby Universe,” said Aurora Simionescu at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Studies (ISAS) who led the study.  

Computer simulations show that as electrons in the jet fly from the supermassive black hole at nearly the speed of light, they collide with microwave photons in the CMB and boost their energy into the X-ray band. This is the X-ray signal Chandra detected, but this means the electrons in the jet must continue to move at this speed for its entire length, which is over 300,000 light-years. A finding that has scientists scratching their heads. 

Astronomers have detected many long jets emitted by nearby supermassive black holes, but very few from early quasars with jets emitting X-rays. Astronomers could have missed many similar systems since they weren’t trying to detect them. Now, they’ll follow the breadcrumbs to get a better picture of the early universe and try to understand the evolution of supermassive black holes during the past 13.77 billion years a little better.    

Astronomers look for similar events to study in detail

Scientists have so far identified very few jets distant enough that their X-ray brightness is amplified by the CMB as clearly as in the B3 0727+409 system.” But, Stawarz adds, “if bright X-ray jets can exist with very faint or undetected radio counterparts, it means that there could be much more of them out there because we haven’t been systematically looking for them.” 

Supermassive black hole activity, including the launching of jets, may be different in the early Universe than what we see later on,” said co-author Teddy Cheung of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. “By finding and studying more of these distant jets, we can start to grasp how the properties of supermassive black holes might change over billions of years.” 

You can take a video tour of B3 0727+409 aboard the Chandra X-ray Observatory here.

We’ll update you as astronomers learn more about relativistic jets and similar systems. 

Read about astronomers observations of newly formed galaxies.

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Read about swirls of the disk of dust surrounding young, newly-formed stars.

Learn more about NASA’s journey to the stars and future plans here.

You can take the journey of the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Learn more about what astronomers have discovered about supermassive black holes here

Read and discover more about quasar B3 0727+409