Launching an accelerating fragment of the thin disk at 7 percent of the speed of light
Space news (July 25, 2015) – 7,500 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus
The majority of lights in the night sky above are double star systems composed of two suns orbiting each other. NASA space scientists using the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the unusual double star system PSR B1259-63/LS 2883 (B1259 is the short version) three times between December 2011 and February 2014 looking for clues to its nature.
“These two objects are in an unusual cosmic arrangement and have given us a chance to witness something special,” said George Pavlov of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, lead author of a paper describing these results. “As the pulsar moved through the disk, it appears that it punched a clump of material out and flung it away into space.”
Composed of a pulsar and companion star 30 times the mass of the Sun, B1259 is in a weird looking cosmic arrangement that has been kicking up a little dust lately. Recent data indicates the high-energy particle winds created by the combination of rapid rotation and intense magnetic field of the pulsar appears to have punched a hole in the disk of gas surrounding the companion star. A hole composed of gas that has been ejected from the disk at 4 million miles per hour and accelerated from 7 percent of the speed of light to 15 percent between the second and third observation periods.
“After this clump of stellar material was knocked out, the pulsar’s wind appears to have accelerated it, almost as if it had a rocket attached,” said co-author Oleg Kargaltsev of George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC.
The pulsar is an ultra-dense neutron star orbiting its companion star in a highly elliptical orbit that makes its closest approach every 41 months. The companion star is rotating at a speed resulting in a disk of material spinning off, creating the thin disk of gas surrounding the massive sun. The pulsar is expected to pass through the disk of material as it makes its next approach to B1259. NASA scientists expect to view the event and collect data on the unusual nature of this double star system.
41 months is enough time for NASA scientists to plan their next move and get other telescopes and spacecraft in place to view the event. NASA scientists will collect data on the effects of the stellar winds of the pulsar on the gas disk surrounding the companion star as it passes through. There could be another ejection of gas material as it passes close to B1259, next time, which is an opportunity to learn more about double star systems and the cosmos.
“This just shows how powerful the wind blasting off a pulsar can be,” said co-author Jeremy Hare, also of GWU. “The pulsar’s wind is so strong that it could ultimately eviscerate the entire disk around its companion star over time.”
NASA space scientists will next view double star system B1259, later in the year, and sometime in 2016. The next passing of the pulsar through the disk of gas surrounding its companion star could be even more spectacular and unusual in nature.
You can learn more about the Chandra X-ray Observatory here.
Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
Space & Astronomy Wiki – the closest star to Earth –
Worshiped by every recorded human culture, the Sun – or Sol as the Romans called it – contains over 99.8 percent of the mass in the solar system, and is over a thousand times as massive.
Composed of 7.8 percent helium (He) and 92.1 percent hydrogen (H2) along with 0.1 percent oxygen and other elements, Sol looks solid in photographs, but its surface is a sea of hot 5,500 Celsius (10,000 degrees Fahrenheit) gas.
Called ‘Helios’ by the Greeks, the Sun is a stellar type G star called a main-sequence star but will change into a brighter, bigger and cooler red dwarf star around 5 billion years after its birth.
With a diameter over 100 times that of Earth at 1.4 million km (840,000 miles), the Sun is a common medium-sized yellow star you could fit over a million piles of earth inside.
Sitting at a distance of 149.6 million km (93 million miles) from our planet or 1 astronomical unit (AU), a distance which is used as a common measuring stick by astronomers viewing the solar system, the Sun transforms over 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 tons of helium every second through nuclear fusion.
Dominating the gravity pool of the solar system, the mass of the Sun warps spacetime, which determines the orbits of the planets, and governs the movements of all mass bodies within the boundaries of the system.
Space & Astronomy Wiki – the constellations in the sky –
One of the first constellations in the night sky to be perceived the human eyes, Aquarius the Water Bearer was first recorded by Babylonian astronomers as “the Great One” on stones and official seals as early as the year 2000 BCE.
Located in the fourth quadrant between latitude 65-90, Aquarius the Water Bearer is the 10th largest constellation covering 980 square degrees of the night sky.
Found near Cetus (the whale), Pisces (the fish), Delphinus (the dolphin) and Eridanus (the river) on the Sea of the Southern sky, Aquarius the Water Bearer is best viewed in the evening sky in the Southern Hemisphere in spring and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.
Look high in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere sky early in October around 10 p.m. local time (11 p.m. local daylight saving time), or early in November around 8 p.m. local time, to best see Aquarius the Water Bearer.
Look for four bright stars outlining a person with an overflowing vessel pouring water in the form of faint stars into the mouth of the star Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish.
This is Aquarius the Water Bearer!
You can learn more about the constellation Aquarius here.
Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets in the solar system –
At an average distance of 0.72 AU from Sol, Venus is the second planet from the Sun, closest sister planet to Earth in size and mass, and the third densest planet in the solar system at an average density of 5.24 g/cm3.
The second-brightest object in the night sky, with the Moon being the brightest, at between magnitude -3.8 and -4.6, Venus was first recorded by Babylonian astronomers in the 17th century BC and is named after the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty.
Called both the Evening Star and Morningstar, Venus is the second largest terrestrial planet in the solar system and the hottest planet with an average surface temperature of 462 degrees Celsius.
Composed of a crust, molten mantle, and core, the surface of Venus is totally obscured by dense clouds of carbon dioxide that trap heat very effectively, producing a runaway greenhouse effect.
Rotating very slowly on its axis, Venus rotates in the opposite direction to the other planets in the solar system, creating extremely long days and nights, and a west to east movement of the Sun across the sky.
Looking at the surface of Venus you see mountains, valleys, craters, and even evidence of previous volcanic activity. This is deceiving, though, because the geology of the surface of this planet is very different than that of Earth.
We’ll talk more about the surface geology, atmosphere and life history of Venus in future articles.
Until NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Space Observatory detected a sequence of seven stellar flares over 10,000 times more powerful than the biggest ever recorded erupting from a red dwarf star in the binary system DG CVn
Space news ( Oct. 30, 2014) – astrophysics: gamma-ray bursts; seven of the most intense, powerful gamma-ray bursts ever detected –
NASA space scientists operating NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Space Observatory detected a sequence of seven of the most intense, powerful, and long-lasting stellar flares ever seen at 5:07 p.m EDT on April 23, 2014. You can watch a video of the event here. They believe the gamma-rays detected are from stellar flares erupting from the surface of one of a pair of red dwarf stars 60 light-years away in the binary star system DG Canum Venaticorum (DG CVn). They are currently scratching their heads and rethinking theories on the intensity, power, and length of time of major stellar flaring episodes exhibited by red dwarf stars.
“For about three minutes after the BAT trigger, the superflare’s X-ray brightness was greater than the combined luminosity of both stars at all wavelengths under normal conditions,” noted Goddard’s Adam Kowalski, who is leading a detailed study on the event. “Flares this large from red dwarfs are exceedingly rare.”
“We used to think major flaring episodes from red dwarfs lasted no more than a day, but Swift detected at least seven powerful eruptions over a period of about two weeks,” said Stephen Drake, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who gave a presentation on the “superflare” at the August meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s High Energy Astrophysics Division. “This was a very complex event.”
At peak power and intensity, space scientist Rachael Osten of the Space Telescope Institute and Stephen Drake of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center indicate this sequence of stellar flares reached 360 million degrees Fahrenheit (200 million Celsius), which is over 12 times hotter than the center of our own sun. Currently, they’re trying to figure out which of the pair of red dwarf stars is the source of the sequence of seven stellar flares they observed.
Space scientists indicate the problem is the pair of red dwarf suns in this binary star system are only about three times the distance apart as the average distance of Earth from the sun. This is too close for instruments to determine which red dwarf star is the culprit in this case.
“This system is poorly studied because it wasn’t on our watch list of stars capable of producing large flares,” said Rachel Osten, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and a deputy project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, now under construction. “We had no idea DG CVn had this in it.”
NASA space scientists will now turn their attention to stars within 100 light-years of DG DVn. The majority of these suns are middle-aged, like our own sun, but there are over a thousand young red dwarf stars drifting through this region of space. Studying red dwarf suns of the same age as DG CVn (around 30 million years) will allow the best opportunity to observe similar stellar flares as the seven seen recently. They also plan to keep an eye on DG CVn using the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer in case it unleashes similar stellar flares in the future.
For more information on the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer visit.
You can find more information on NASA and red dwarf stars here.
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 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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.