How do Astronomers Study the Formation of Stars?

By using supercomputers to simulate the birth and evolution of individual stars and star clusters in the Milky Way  

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Simulation of star formation region using specially created computer code and a state-of-the-art supercomputer. Credits: NASA Ames/David Ellsworth/Tim Sandstrom

Space news (astrophysics: studying star formation; 3-D computer simulations) – NASA Advanced Supercomputing laboratory located at NASA’s Ames Research Center – 

How do astronomers study the formation of stars? Astronomers use complex computer code, run on one of the fastest, most powerful supercomputers on Earth to simulate the processes involved in the formation of individual stars and star clusters in the Milky Way. Using simulations capturing a mix of gas, dust, magnetic fields, gravity and other physical phenomena, astrophysicists study the birth and evolution of young, nearby stars and star clusters.  

The image above was created using state-of-the-art Orion2 computer code written by geniuses at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and simulated on the powerful, ultra-fast Pleiades supercomputer located at NASA Advanced Supercomputing complex. Considered the seventh most powerful supercomputer in the US, it was necessary to achieve results closely matching data obtained through observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope. 

“Our simulations, run on Pleiades and brought to life by the visualization team at the NAS facility at Ames, were critical to obtaining important new results that match with Hubble’s high-resolution images and other observations made by a variety of space and Earth-based telescopes,” said Richard Klein, adjunct professor at UC Berkeley and astrophysicist at LLNL. “A key result, supported by observation, is that some star clusters form like pearls in a chain along elongated, dense filaments inside molecular clouds—so-called “stellar nurseries.” 

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Richard Klein. Credits: The University of California, Berkeley Department of Astronomy.

The video simulation here shows the evolution of a massive cloud of gas and dust over a period of 700,000 years. Astrophysicists used the computing power of the Pleiades supercomputer, operating using the Orion2 code to create this amazing cosmic tapestry. The gravitational collapse of the cloud results in the birth of a stellar object called an infrared dark cloud (IRDC) filament. Protostars begin to form within the cloud, highlighted by bright orange regions strewn across the body of the central and bordering filaments. 

“Without NASA’s vast computational resources, it would not have been possible for us to produce these immense and complex simulations that include all the output variables we need to get these new results and compare them with observations,” Klein explained. “The ORION2 simulations incorporate a complex mix of gravity, supersonic turbulence, hydrodynamics (motion of molecular gas), radiation, magnetic fields, and highly energetic gas outflows. The science team conducted many independent tests of each piece of physics in ORION against known data to demonstrate the code’s accuracy.” 

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The Pleiades supercomputer. Credits: Ames Research Facility/NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility.

The team’s back at work trying to devise even better simulations of star formation by improving the resolution and zooming into the action. “Higher resolution in the simulations will enable us to study the details of the formation of stellar disks formed around protostars. These disks allow mass to transfer onto the protostars as they evolve, and are thought to be the structures within which planets eventually form,” said Klein.  

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Dr. Richard Klein talking about a simulation of star formation. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Facility/NASA Advanced Supercomputing

More work to do

They’ll need additional time on Pleiades and lots of extra storage during the next few years to tweak their simulations. The team seems to be on the trail of a real breakthrough in understanding and knowledge concerning the processes leading to star formation in the Milky Way. They appear to have their collective eye on the bigger picture. “Understanding star formation is a grand challenge problem. Ultimately, our results support NASA’s science goal of determining the origin of stars and planets, as part of its larger challenge of figuring out the origin of the entire universe.” 

You can learn more about the formation of stars here

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Learn about astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley here.  

Discover the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  

Read and learn about the star navigation skills of the amazing Polynesian islanders.

Read about the Kepler Space Telescope observing a shockwave from a supernova.

Read about a proto-planetary nebula with a unique shape.

Kepler Mission Discovers First Nearly-Earth-Sized Cradle for a New Human Genesis

NASA space scientists have discovered the first nearly Earth-sized exoplanet lying within the habitable zone of its Sun-like parent star 

This artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
This artist’s concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Space news (July 23, 2015) – 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –

Twenty years after proving other planets do exist the human journey to the beginning of space and time draws nearer to finding an Earth-like cradle for a new human Genesis

This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star that is similar to our sun.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first nearly Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of a star much like our own Sun. Called Kepler-452b and roughly 60 percent bigger than our home planet, this exoplanet is the smallest planet found orbiting at a distance from its parent star where liquid water could exist.

On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.

A Star Like Our Sun

This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt
This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury.
Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

Kepler-452b’s parent star is an older cousin to the Sun, a G2 type star approximately 20 percent brighter, 1.5 billion years older, and 10 percent bigger than Earth’s home star.

We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life to exist on this planet.

A Rocky Exoplanet like Earth?

Since Kepler launched in 2009, twelve planets less than twice the size of Earth have been discovered in the habitable zones of their stars. Credits: NASA/N. Batalha and W. Stenzel
Since Kepler launched in 2009, twelve planets less than twice the size of Earth have been discovered in the habitable zones of their stars.
Credits: NASA/N. Batalha and W. Stenzel

Kepler-452b is the twelfth exoplanet the human journey to the beginning of space and time has viewed lying within the habitable zone of its parent star. Data collected by both space and Earth-based telescopes indicates planets of this size are often rocky in nature. Indicating the possibility this exoplanet could have an atmosphere and environment that could act as a cradle for a new human Genesis to begin. 

A New Human Genesis!

Humans traveling across spacetime to Kepler-452b would evolve during a voyage lasting thousands or even hundreds of years. Extended hibernation of some type would certainly make the journey easier, but this kind of technology hasn’t been developed. An alternative solution to extended periods living in space during a voyage unlike any humans have undertaken is probably a necessity.

Once we land on Kepler-452b, learning to survive and live on this foreign planet will evolve us once again. Humans are designed to evolve in order to survive living in different environments. We would likely survive as a species, but doing so would change us in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

521 New Candidates for the Exoplanet Zoo

There are 4,696 planet candidates now known with the release of the seventh Kepler planet candidate catalog - an increase of 521 since the release of the previous catalog in January 2015. Credits: NASA/W. Stenzel
There are 4,696 planet candidates now known with the release of the seventh Kepler planet candidate catalog – an increase of 521 since the release of the previous catalog in January 2015.
Credits: NASA/W. Stenzel

At the same time, NASA released this news it announced the Kepler mission’s discovery of 521 new exoplanet candidates for the exoplanet zoo. 12 of these candidates orbit their parent star within the habitable zone and nine have home stars similar to the Sun in both size and temperature. Great news for the human desire to locate a second Earth to live on. 

We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.

NASA space scientists will now take a closer look at each of the exoplanet candidates and specifically the ones lying within the habitable zone of their parent star. There could be a second Earth, a cradle for a new human Genesis, waiting to be discovered. An event that would change the course of human history on planet Earth and the way we view ourselves as cosmic beings.

To learn more about the Kepler mission go here.

To learn more about NASA’s space mission visit here.

Read about NASA’s Europa Orbiter and plans to take a closer look at one of the best places in the solar system to look for life other than Earth.

Learn more about ice geysers erupting from the frozen surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus helping to create the E ring of the second biggest planet in the solar system.

Learn about the mystery surrounding the existence of ultra-luminous x-ray sources in the cosmos and ways space scientists are beginning to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding these mysterious objects.

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

Earth-size Planet Discovered Orbiting Within Habitable Zone of Star

Earth-sized planets could be more common than we first assumed

This artists conception of Kepler-186f is elegant, but still imagination at work
This artist’s conception of Kepler-186f is elegant, but still imagination at work

Space news (astrophysics: exoplanets; Kepler-186f )

NASA astronomers working with the Kepler Space Telescope have discovered the first Earth-sized planet orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of its host star. Kepler-186f, as its name implies, is in the Kepler-186 star system, around 500 light-years from Sol in the constellation Cygnus. A discovery that implies planets the size of Earth, residing within their host star’s habitable zone, could be more common than we first thought.

Space scientists believe there’s a good chance Kepler-186f is a rocky planet, similar in many ways to the Earth. The fact it resides within the habitable zone implies liquid water could exist on the surface of this planet and possibly life based on the same principles as on Earth. The M dwarf, or red dwarf, sun it orbits is a common star making up about 70 percent of the suns in our home galaxy and is only half the volume and mass of Sol. This star is also orbited by four other planets, according to the latest information, but this number could change as more data is obtained.

“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind’s quest to find truly Earth-like worlds.”

NASA astronomers have no idea, yet, what Kepler-186f is made of, or even its mass. They’ll now focus more instruments and time to look into some of these facts, and hopefully, soon we’ll know a lot more about this possible twin-Earth.

“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Elisa Quintana, a research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”

Earth-size planets are more familiar to scientists than the larger planets discovered lying within the habitable zone of their host stars. It will be easier to understand the data they obtain concerning Kepler-186f, and hopefully, this translates into a better picture of the planet.

M dwarfs are the most numerous stars,” said Quintana. “The first signs of other life in the galaxy may well come from planets orbiting an M dwarf.”

What would a day on Kepler-186f be like? This planet is near the outer boundary of its host star’s habitable zone, which results in it receiving about 30 percent of the energy Earth gets from Sol. Viewed from the surface of the planet at high noon, the host star would only be as bright as Sol an hour before sunset. A day on Kepler-186f isn’t going to be a walk in the park on a sunny day.

“Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has,” said Thomas Barclay, a research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth.”

What’s next for the team?

The next step for NASA astronomers is to find Earth-size planets that are a true twin for Earth, which will be a day to remember. Determining the chemical composition of any planets found will be an exciting time for both astronomers and humankind. A planet with a similar chemical composition to Earth would open up eyes and change the prospect of the possibility of alien life in the galaxy and universe.

It would truly be something to experience.

What is the possibility of alien life existing in the universe? Read “The Possibility of Intelligent Lifeforms Existing in the Universe”.

What has Kepler discovered lately? Read “Kepler Mission Introduces 715 New Planets

Read about “The Search for Life Beyond Earth Takes a Turn at Jupiter

Watch this YouTube video on Kepler-186f

This artists conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer

Kepler Mission Introduces 715 New Planets

This artists conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer
This artist’s conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer

Astronomy News –

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

Kepler-62f looks dark and foreboding in this artists conception of the exo-planet
Kepler-62f looks dark and foreboding in this artist’s conception of the exo-planet

Astronomers believe around 95 percent of these newly discovered planets are smaller than Neptune, which is nearly four times larger than Earth. This means Earth-size planets outside our own solar system are a lot more common than astronomers first thought.

Kepler-62e is depicted in this artists conception
Kepler-62e is depicted in this artist’s conception

“The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds.”

Work still to be done

Astronomers have had two decades to work out a new way to identify planets among the thousands of star systems they examine using the Kepler Space Telescope and other instruments. The initial process involves laboriously doing a planet-by-planet analysis to determine if a candidate is a planet. Astronomers now use a statistical technique, which they apply to star systems they think have more than one planet.

Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, and a team of scientists analyzed star systems they think have more than one planet. All of these planet candidates were initially found in the first two years of the Kepler Mission – May 2009 to March 2011.

The statistical technique they used is called verification by multiplicity and it partly uses mathematical probability to determine if a candidate is a planet. Astronomers have observed that planets tend to be found together while stars like to roam on their own. If they find a candidate has two or more planet candidates, then it’s probably a star, with orbiting planets. Using these statistical technique astronomers were able to find these 715 new planets.

“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates –but they were only candidate worlds,” said Lissauer. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds.”

At least four of these new planets astronomers believe are only 2.5 bigger than Earth and orbit their home sun at a distance compatible with the possibility of life. Planets that fall within the habitable zone, or goldilocks zone, of their home star, are planets where water could exist in its various forms. Astronomers believe the temperature and conditions on these four planets could be suitable for biological life forms to exist.

This artists conception is of Kepler-69 and its possible solar system
This artist’s conception is of Kepler-69 and its possible solar system

The home star of one of these new planets called Kepler-296f, astronomers believe is only half the mass and 5 percent of our own Sun. Kepler-296f astronomers believe is at least twice the size of Earth and they’re wondering if it could be a gaseous world, with a thick soupy atmosphere, or possibly a water planet, with a life-sustaining ocean of water.

What’s next?

“From this study, we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular — resembling pancakes — not your classical view of an atom,” said Jason Rowe, a research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. “The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home.”

With the latest planets discovered, this puts the total number of planets the Kepler mission has found at around 1,700. Around 961 of these candidates, NASA is sure are planets. One day we will venture out into the unknown of space and land on one of these distant planets. Each planet we discover brings us closer to this day.

You can view the Stream feed here www.ustream.tv/channel/NASA-arc

For more information on the Kepler Space Telescope and its mission to discover planets visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Read this article on the year ahead for the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Read this article on the Chelyabinsk meteorite

Read this article on a supernova NASA thinks could have given birth to a black hole

Sources:

http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/digital-press-kit-kepler-planet-bonanza

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries

NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds

All images and diagrams provided by NASA.