Binary Star System V404 Cygni Flares to Life

Forming rings of X-ray light that expand with time, creating a shooting target effect 

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Rings of X-ray light centered on V404 Cygni, a binary system containing an erupting black hole (dot at center), were imaged by the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA’s Swift satellite from June 30 to July 4. A narrow gap splits the middle ring in two. Color indicates the energy of the X-rays, with red representing the lowest (800 to 1,500 electron volts, eV), green for medium (1,500 to 2,500 eV), and the most energetic (2,500 to 5,000 eV) shown in blue. For comparison, visible light has energies ranging from about 2 to 3 eV. The dark lines running diagonally through the image are artifacts of the imaging system. Credits: Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester) and NASA/Swift

Space news (astrophysics: binary star systems; black hole/sun-like star systems) – 8,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cygnus, next to flaring 10 solar mass black hole – 

It all started just before 2:32 p.m. on June 15, 2015, when NASA’s Swift X-ray Burst Alert Satellite detected a rising wave of high-speed, extremely-energetic X-rays emanating from the direction of the constellation Cygnus. Additional detections of the same flare ten minutes later by a Japanese experiment on the International Space Station called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) and other detectors. Allowed astronomers to determine the outburst detected originated 8,000 light-years away in low-mass X-ray binary V404 Cygni, where previous data indicated a stellar-mass black hole and sun-like star orbited each other. A black hole and sun-like star binary system that up to this point had been sleeping since its last outburst in 1989. 

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The Swift X-ray image of V404 Cygni covers a patch of the sky equal to about half the apparent diameter of the full moon. This image shows the rings as they appeared on June 30. Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (left), Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester); NASA/Swift (right)

Fifteen days later on June 30, a team of scientists from around the world led by Andrew Beardmore of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom investigated V404 Cygni a little closer using NASA’s Swift X-ray Burst Alert Satellite. Images taken (above) revealed a series of concentric rings of X-ray light centered on a 10 solar mass black hole (dot at the center of image). 

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. The black hole pulls material from a massive, blue companion star toward it. This material forms a disk (shown in red and orange) that rotates around the black hole before falling into it or being redirected away from the black hole in the form of powerful jets.
On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist’s illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. The black hole pulls material from a massive, blue companion star toward it. This material forms a disk (shown in red and orange) that rotates around the black hole before falling into it or being redirected away from the black hole in the form of powerful jets.

Astronomers believe the x-ray rings are the result of echoing x-ray light from a large flare on June 26, 2016, at 1:40 p.m. EDT. The flare emitted x-rays in all directions. Multiple dust layers at around 4,000 and 1,000 light-years from V404 Cygni reflected some of these x-rays towards Earth. This reflected light travels a greater distance and reaches us slightly later than light traveling a straighter path. The small time difference produced an x-ray echo, formed x-ray rings expanding in spacetime.  

“The flexible planning of Swift observations has given us the best dust-scattered X-ray ring images ever seen,” Beardmore said. “With these observations, we can make a detailed study of the normally invisible interstellar dust in the direction of this black hole.” 

What’s next?

The team is currently watching V404 Cygni, waiting for its next outburst, and preparing Swift to collect additional data to determine exactly what’s going on here. They hope to hit the bulls eye in human understanding of the collection on x-ray sources detected across the cosmos. Regular monitoring of this binary system using a suite of telescopes and instruments could give us clues to how a stellar-mass black hole and sun-like star end up orbiting each other. About the origin and formation of the unusual types of binary systems detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

Watch this YouTube video on the flaring of V404 Cygni.

You can follow the space journey of NASA here

Learn more about the space voyage of the Swift X-ray Burst Alert Telescope

Discover V404 Cygni

Read about and discover the International Space Station here

Read more about the Japanese experiment Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI)

Travel across the Tarantula nebula on a runaway star.

Read about the Kepler Space Telescope’s recent observation of the shockwave from a nearby supernova for the first time in human history.

Take a look and learn more about NASA’s Europa spacecraft.

Kepler Captures Supernova Shockwave in Visible Light

Mining of Kepler space mission data reveals “supernova’s shockwave” in visible light

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Space news (massive supernovae) – 1.2 billion light-years from Earth –

An international team of scientists at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana mining three years of Kepler Space Telescope data for massive supernovae discovered something never seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Buried in the Kepler data Peter Garnavich and team observed for the first time the brilliant flash of a massive supernova’s shockwave in visible light as it reached the surface of the exploding star.

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NASA scientists Peter Garnavich. Credit: NASA

“In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky,” said Garnavich. “You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.”

Garnavich’s the leader of the Kepler Extragalactic Survey (KEGS) research team, which is currently mining NASA’s Kepler K2 mission data looking for massive supernovae. NASA’s repurposed planet hunter is expected to detect around a dozen more events during its mission to capture the light from hundreds of distant galaxies and trillions of stars.

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The diagram illustrates the brightness of a supernova event relative to the sun as it unfolds. For the first time, a supernova shockwave has been observed in the optical wavelength or visible light as it reaches the surface of the star. This early flash of light is called a shock breakout. 

Astronomers call the brilliant flash of a supernova’s shockwave “a shock breakout”. This event only lasts around twenty minutes in the cases observed, so catching the flash as it happens is truly a milestone for astronomers studying supernovae. By piecing together individual moments of a supernova astronomers hope to learn more about the history of chemical complexity and the evolution of life.

“All heavy elements in the universe come from supernova explosions. For example, all the silver, nickel, and copper in the earth and even in our bodies came from the explosive death throes of stars,” said Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Life exists because of supernovae.”

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NASA scientist Steve Howell. Credit: NASA

Massive supernovae and their less energetic brothers are the seeds of chemical complexity in the cosmos, spreading the elements of creation across the breadth of the universe. Understanding the physics behind these titanic events can help tell us how these elements of creation were spread across the universe.

Kepler observes two massive supernovae

The Kepler Space Telescope observed a type II supernova shockwave in visible light as it broke the surface of the star for the first time in history as supermassive red giant KSN 2011d went supernova in 2011. Containing roughly 500 times the mass of Sol, this supermassive star at the moment the shockwave from the supernova reached its surface was 130,000,000 times brighter than the Sun. Continuing to explode and grow, the star eventually reached a maximum brightness over 1 billion times greater than Sol 14 days later.

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This artist’s conception of the repurposed Kepler K2 spacecraft. Credit. NASA/Kepler K2

The Kepler Space Telescope also observed a second type II supernova in 2011. Red super massive star KSN 2011a contains 300 times as much mass as Sol and occupies a volume of space that would easily engulf the orbit of Earth around the Sun. Only 700 million light-years from Earth, astronomers weren’t able to observe a shock breakout in the data for this supernova, but they think it might be due to gas masking the shockwave as it reached the surface of the star.

“That is the puzzle of these results,” said Garnavich. “You look at two supernovae and see two different things. That’s maximum diversity.”

“While Kepler cracked the door open on observing the development of these spectacular events, K2 will push it wide open observing dozens more supernovae,” said Tom Barclay, senior research scientist and director of the Kepler and K2 guest observer office at Ames. “These results are a tantalizing preamble to what’s to come from K2!”

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Drawing of Tom Barclay. Credit: Tom Barclay.com

Watch this YouTube video on this event here.

Learn more about K2.

Discover what the Kepler Extragalactic Survey has told us here.

Take the voyage of the Kepler Space Telescope.

Learn more about type II supernovas here.

Discover NASA.

Learn more about astronomy at the University of Notre Dame here.

Read about the giant bubble observed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Learn more about the prominent emission lines in young stars.

Read about two merging black holes astronomers are watching.

Survey of Debris Fields Around Infant Suns Reveals Structures with Unexpected Diversity and Complexity

Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?

This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied.
This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied.

Space news (July 13, 2015) – collisions indicating possible gravitational effects of unseen orbiting exoplanets or consequences of the star traveling through interstellar space –

Space scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a visible-light imaging survey of the debris field systems around 10 young stars between the ages of 10 million to 1 billion years old. Debris fields they studied in order to better understand the early solar system and formation of the planets.

Explore 25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope NASA will host a one-day-long event for 50 social media and media attendees at the Newseum and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into a low Earth orbit and began returning groundbreaking images and data that continue to revolutionize astronomy.
Explore 25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope
NASA will host a one-day-long event for 50 social media and media attendees at the Newseum and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into a low-Earth orbit and began returning groundbreaking images and data that continue to revolutionize astronomy.

It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

eclipseguy with Glenn Schneider from The Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Glenn is the Project Lead – he makes the calculations for our Totality Run: the aircraft’s interception of the Moon’s umbra. He’s seen 32 Total Solar Eclipses
eclipseguy with Glenn Schneider from The Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Glenn is the Project Lead – he makes the calculations for our Totality Run: the aircraft’s interception of the Moon’s umbra. He’s seen 32 Total Solar Eclipses

What did the survey find?

Space scientists studying the evolution of stars and the formation of planets used to think debris fields surrounding young stars should be composed of simple pancake-like structures.

The complexity and diversity in debris fields studied in this recent survey strongly suggest this scenario is a little more involved than theories suggest. Facts indicate the possibility of gravitational effects of unseen exoplanets hidden within the dusty debris, the results of the young star traveling through interstellar space, or something unthought of as the reason for the deviation from theory.

We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said. “These are actually pretty complicated three-dimensional debris systems, often with embedded smaller structures. Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets.” The astronomers used Hubble’s Space Telescope

Imaging Spectrograph to study 10 previously discovered circumstellar debris systems.

Star HD 181327 Shows Huge Debris Spray

Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image shows the huge dusty debris discs around a star called HD 181327, showing a huge spray of debris possibly caused by the recent collision of two bodies into the outer part of the system. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2826048/Hubble-spots-massive-eye-sky-reveal-massive-dust-clouds-left-planets-form-say-moon-formed.html#ixzz3gjPl6sI1 Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image shows the huge dusty debris discs around a star called HD 181327, showing a huge spray of debris possibly caused by the recent collision of two bodies into the outer part of the system. Image credit NASA

The ring-like debris system surrounding star HD 181327 has irregularities space scientists think could be due to a recent collision between two bodies on the outer part of the system.

This spray of material is fairly distant from its host star — roughly twice the distance that Pluto is from the sun,” said co-investigator Christopher Stark. “Catastrophically destroying an object that massive at such a large distance is difficult to explain, and it should be very rare. If we are in fact seeing the recent aftermath of a massive collision, the unseen planetary system may be quite chaotic.

Another interpretation for the irregularity is that the disk has been mysteriously warped by the star’s passage through interstellar space, directly interacting with the unseen interstellar material. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said. “Our team is currently analyzing follow-up observations that will help reveal the true cause of the irregularity.

As of 07/09/2015 space scientists have verified the existence of 1858 exoplanets, including 468 exosolar systems with multiple planets, and 92 Earth-size terrestrial-type planets. The structure and overall architecture of the systems discovered so far are more diverse than astrophysicists first proposed.

Habitable Worlds Image Credit & Licence: Planetary Habitability Laboratory (UPR Arecibo) Explanation: Is Earth the only known world that can support life? In an effort to find life-habitable worlds outside our Solar System, stars similar to our Sun are being monitored for slight light decreases that indicate eclipsing planets. Many previously-unknown planets are being found, including over 700 worlds recently uncovered by NASA's Kepler satellite. Depicted above in artist's illustrations are twelve extrasolar planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their parent stars. These exoplanets have the right temperature for water to be a liquid on their surfaces, and so water-based life on Earth might be able to survive on them. Although technology cannot yet detect resident life, finding habitable exoplanets is a step that helps humanity to better understand its place in the cosmos.
Habitable Worlds
Image Credit & Licence: Planetary Habitability Laboratory (UPR Arecibo)
Explanation: Is Earth the only known world that can support life? In an effort to find life-habitable worlds outside our Solar System, stars similar to our Sun are being monitored for slight light decreases that indicate eclipsing planets. Many previously unknown planets are being found, including over 700 worlds recently uncovered by NASA’s Kepler satellite. Depicted above in artist’s illustrations are twelve extrasolar planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their parent stars. These exoplanets have the right temperature for water to be a liquid on their surfaces, and so water-based life on Earth might be able to survive on them. Although technology cannot yet detect resident life, finding habitable exoplanets is a step that helps humanity to better understand its place in the cosmos.

During this time, space scientists have only viewed about two dozen light-scattering, circumstellar debris systems due to their comparative faintness and proximity to their parent stars. Despite the small sample size in exoplanetary debris systems astronomers view a surprising variety of architectures.

We are now seeing a similar diversity in the architecture of the accompanying debris systems,” Schneider said. “How are the planets affecting the disks, and how are the disks affecting the planets? There is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris that might affect the evolution of these exoplanetary debris systems.

What’s next?

Space scientists will now use the results obtained through this survey and the overall study of the debris system disks viewed to devise new theories and experiments to determine more about the evolution and growth of young stars in the cosmos.

They’ll also use the data and information gained to begin looking at how our solar system formed and evolved during the past 4.6 billion years. They want to study collisions between objects like HD 181327 and Earth-like planets to give more insight into the birth and evolution of our planet and the Moon during the first moments of the solar system.

You can learn more about and follow NASA’s space mission here.

Learn more about the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Learn about the NExSS Coalition’s Search for Habitable Planets and Life Beyond Earth.

Read about NASA telescopes detection of water vapor and clear skies on a Neptune-sized exoplanet.

Learn how to calculate the orbit of asteroids within the Main Asteroid Belt.

Planets Existing in Quadruple Star Systems More Common Than First Thought

Four percent of star systems seen during human journey to the beginning of space and time contain four stars

Space news (March 09, 2015) – 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries –

Astronomers operating instruments fitted to the Palomar Observatory in San Diego recently discovered the second exoplanet found existing in a quadruple star system. The first such exo-planet, KIC 4862625, was found in 2013 by citizen researchers using data obtained using the Kepler Space Telescope. This latest discovery indicates to many scientists and interested citizens that it’s more common for planets to exist in multiple star systems than first thought.

“About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving,” said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Called 30 Ari, this newly discovered quadruple star system is just 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The exo-planet is huge at over ten times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the parent star in an interesting 335 days. Could life exist on such a planet? Astronomers and space scientists think this is unlikely, but what do they know for certain?

The planet only orbits the primary star, not the second star which is relatively close to the first star at 23 astronomical units. The third and fourth stars are locked in a gravitational battle with this pair of stars at a distance of 1,670 A.U. from the primary star.

What would the view be like from the surface of this exoplanet? The first pair of the four stars would appear as a single small sun in the sky, along with two exceedingly bright stars visible during the day. Life existing on this planet would be one tough customer.

The image below is an artists conception of the 30 Ari star system.

This artist's conception shows the 30 Ari system, which includes four stars and a planet. The planet, a gas giant, orbits its primary star (yellow) in about a year's time. The primary star, called 30 Ari B, has a companion -- the small
This artist’s conception shows the 30 Ari system, which includes four stars and a planet. The planet, a gas giant, orbits its primary star (yellow) in about a year’s time. The primary star, called 30 Ari B, has a companion — the small “red dwarf” star shown at upper left. This pair of stars is itself locked in a long-distance orbit with another pair of stars (upper right), known as 30 Ari A. Researchers using instruments at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif., recently discovered the red star at upper left, bringing the total number of known stars in the system from three to four.
Image copyright: Karen Teramura, UH IfA

This planet could have brothers and sisters orbiting one of the stars within the system and even moons itself. Life could exist on one of these worlds. But we best leave these thoughts and ideas for the science fiction books.

We have discovered star systems with as many as four suns during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. So far, about four percent of systems viewed have at least four stars, and we have just started the journey. What will we discover next?

What’s next?

What’s next for astronomers and planetary scientists? A detailed study of multiple star systems, including 30 Ari, and their family dynamics. This should also hopefully tell us more about other possible exoplanets and moons in the 30 Ari star system.

Astronomers also want to take a look at why the second star, which in fact was only recently discovered, doesn’t seem to have changed the orbit of the exoplanet discovered. This does seem rather odd? We’ll have to wait and see what they discover.

Read about NASA looking for private and business to help drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Read about methane clouds seen moving over the northern seas of Saturn’s moon Titan

Read about Einstein’s Spacetime

You can learn more about NASA’s search for exoplanets here.

Did Life Evolve in the Early Universe?

Were there even suitable planets upon which life could survive? 

Space news (February 03, 2015) 117 light-years away in the constellation Lyra –

Astronomers have often wondered if life could have evolved in the early universe? Space scientists using data provided by NASA’s Kepler mission recently discovered a planetary system containing as many as five earth-sized planetthat formed when the universe was two billion years old.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist's conception. Image Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine
The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist’s conception.
Image Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine

  

The five earth-sized planets discovered orbit close to their home star in the star system called Kepler-444, range in size between Mercury and Venus. They also take less than ten days to complete each orbit, which means the weather on these planets is hotter and more extreme than any planet in our solar system.

Earth-based life would never survive on these planets unless of course, these planets were once further from their home star. If these planets were once located within the habitable zone of their home planet? It’s possible life once evolved and flourished on one or more of these early planets.

“While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in the Milky Way, we have no indication that any of these planets have now or ever had life on them,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “At their current orbital distances, life as we know it could not exist on these ancient worlds.”

Space scientists studying the age of planets within a star system measure small changes in the brightness of the parent sun produced by pressure waves within the star. These pressure waves result in small variations in star temperature and luminosity leading to very small changes in brightness. Asteroseismologists – asteroseismology is the study of the interior of suns – use these measurements to determine the diameter, mass, and age of the parent sun. The age of the planets within a star system is the same as the parent sun since they formed at about the same time. 

The existence of earth-sized planets in the early universe indicates life could have evolved and survived. This news doesn’t tell us how common solar systems with planets of this size were, but it does mean the possibility existed. 

What’s next?

Space scientists will now begin looking further back in time and at more early star systems to see if they can find more earth-sized planets life could have evolved on. Any intelligent life evolving in these planets would have long ago moved to another planet. Is it possible we could be descendants of life that evolved in the early universe? If any civilization had the time to develop the technology required to travel the universe and seed planets it would be one that developed on one of these early earth-sized planets.

For more information on NASA’s Kepler space mission go here.

Read about methane clouds moving over the northern seas of Saturn’s moon Titan

Read about the first earth-sized planet discovered orbiting within its home star’s habitable zone

Read about the search for extraterrestrial life taking a turn at Jupiter

NASA Telescopes Detecting Clear Skies and Steamy Water Vapor on Neptune-size Exoplanet

A Neptune-size planet with a clear atmosphere is shown crossing in front of its star in this artist's depiction. Such crossings, or transits, are observed by telescopes like NASA's Hubble and Spitzer to glean information about planets' atmospheres.
A Neptune-size planet with a clear atmosphere is shown crossing in front of its star in this artist’s depiction. Such crossings, or transits, are observed by telescopes like NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer to glean information about planets’ atmospheres Image Credit NASA

Is a sign smaller exoplanets could have similar or more hospitable environments

Space news (November 07, 2014) 120 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –

NASA space scientists using the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes detected clear skies and steamy water vapor on exoplanet HAT-P-11b. This is the first detection of molecules on an exoplanet the size of Neptune or smaller. It’s also a sign smaller exoplanets have similar or more hospitable environments.  

Scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Space scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler space telescopes.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

How did space scientists detect clear skies and steamy vapor on a planet 120 light-years away in the Constellation Cygnus? Astronomers used the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to observe HAT-P-11b as it passed in front of its parent star in relation to Earth. By analyzing the starlight passing through the atmosphere of the exoplanet, space scientists determined the specific molecules making it up. 

This scientific technique is called Transmission Spectroscopy and it was particularly effective in the case of HAT-P-11b because of this Neptune-size exoplanet (exo-Neptune), unlike previous ones detected, has no clouds in the atmosphere to block the starlight from coming through, which allowed for the detection of water vapor molecules.  

A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA's Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI
A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA’s Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer space observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.” 

“When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, College Park, lead author of a new study appearing in Nature. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.” 

“We think that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions, which reflect their formation histories,” said study co-author Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Now with data like these, we can begin to piece together a narrative for the origin of these distant worlds.” 

“We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from the University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.” 

NASA space scientists will now use the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to begin looking at more exoplanets the size of HAT-P-11b for clear skies and water vapor. They’ll also hope to use Transmission Spectroscopy to detect smaller exoplanets, more like our home planet, called super-Earths orbiting distant stars. Once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online in 2018, they’ll begin looking at any super-Earths detected for signs of water vapor and other molecules. 

Find more on the Hubble Space Telescope here

More information on the Spitzer Space Telescope can be found here

Look here for more on the Kepler Space Telescope. 

Go here for more information on NASA and the exoplanets discovered.

Read about the possibility of intelligent lifeforms existing in the universe

Read about the Chelyabinsk Meteorite

Read about ancient astronomers looking at Algol for signs of the gods

Calculating Orbits of Asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt

The International Astronomical Search Campaign

The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow
The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow

Space news (astronomy leaders of tomorrow: The International Astronomical Search Campaign)

An asteroid is a piece of solid rock with an irregular body ranging in size between 500 meters and hundreds of kilometers. The majority of these bodies can be found in the main asteroid belt, a region of space between Mars and Jupiter. Pieces of rocky material left over from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago, NASA scientists estimate there are as many as 40,000 asteroids contained within this main asteroid belt, with a combined mass less than the Moon. Confirming the identity and calculating the orbit of the asteroids contained within this belt is part of the space mission of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward
The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward

The International Astronomical Search Campaign (IASC) is an educational outreach program created to allow high school and college students around the country to participate in identifying and calculating the orbit of every rocky body within the main asteroid belt. Originally created and developed by Patrick Miller of Hardin-Simmons University in the state of Texas, this program has helped tens of thousands of students in 250 schools and 25 countries on five continents learn more about astronomy.

Students can help determine the identify and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt
Students can help determine the identity and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt

Students participating in the program download images taken of an asteroid within the main asteroid belt in the last few hours by telescopes (24 and 32 inches) located in the Astronomical Institute in Illinois. Students must determine the identity and calculate the three-dimensional orbit of an asteroid using Astrometrica, a software package users need to download directly from the IASC website, within a three-day window.

The telescopes take three images of an asteroid at six-minute intervals,  which means it would have moved around five pixels in relation to distant background stars in each image. Astrometrica highlights objects in each image fitting these criteria by putting a red circle around them.

In order to determine an object is an asteroid, students must sort through objects that have moved in the images, and ones that are static. They do this by taking a look at the fit of the point spread function, the signal-to-noise ratio, and any change in the size of an object in the images. If an object has moved in a relatively straight line, stayed about the same size, has a signal-to-noise ratio greater than five, and is approximately round in shape, then it’s probably an asteroid.

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time today!

A typical International Astronomical Search Campaign lasts about 45 days, during which new asteroids are often discovered, identified, and their orbits determined. This is your chance to become an astronomy leader of tomorrow, by participating in the International Astronomical Search Campaign, and WISE’s mission to identify and calculate the orbit of every rocky body in the main asteroid belt.

You can find more information and news on the space mission of NASA’s WISE spacecraft here.

You can find more on the current campaigns of the International Astronomical Search Campaign here.

Schools desiring to take part in the International Astronomical Search Campaign contact the IASC Director, Dr. J. Patrick Miller by email at:
iascsearch@hsutx.edu.

Read about Rosetta preparing to make history

Read about the first earth size world discovered orbiting within the life zone of a star

Read about 715 new planets discovered by the Kepler Mission