Tuesday, February 14, 2017

BREAKING: Rumor wins Westminster Kennel Club's Best in Show

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  German Shephered earned top honors in the prestigious annual dog show at Madison Square Garden.


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How Long is a Year on Venus?

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How Long is a Year on Venus?

by Fraser Cain

The length of year on Venus is 224.7 days. In other words, Venus only takes 62% of the time Earth takes to complete an orbit around the Sun. But one of the strangest things about Venus is that it's actually rotating backwards on its axis compared to the other planets in the Solar System. And even stranger, a day on Venus is actually longer than a year on Venus.

A day on Venus lasts 243 Earth days. And this is longer than the 224.7 days it takes to orbit the Sun. If you could stand on the surface of Venus and actually see the Sun, you would see it rise in West, cross the sky in about 117 days and then set in the East.

Compare the Venus length of year to Mercury and Earth. Mercury only takes 88 days to orbit the Sun, while Earth takes 365.26 days to go around the Sun.

We've written several articles about the length of year for Universe Today. Here's an article about the length of year for the planets, and here's an article about the length of year for Mercury.

If you'd like more info on Venus, check out Hubblesite's News Releases about Venus, and here's a link to NASA's Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We've also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

Fraser Cain | December 17, 2009 at 9:50 pm | URL: http://wp.me/p1CHIY-csA

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JPL News - Day in Review

Spitzer Hears Stellar 'Heartbeat' from Planetary Companion
A planet and a star are having a tumultuous romance that can be detected from 370 light-years away.
› Read the full story
Lasers Could Give Space Research its 'Broadband' Moment
New laser technology could yield more science data and high-definition video from spacecraft.
› Read the full story


NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory | jplnewsroom@jpl.nasa.gov | NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory | 4800 Oak Grove Dr | Pasadena, CA 91109

Chance Discovery Of A Three Hour Old Supernova

New post on Universe Today

Chance Discovery Of A Three Hour Old Supernova

by Evan Gough

Supernovae are extremely energetic and dynamic events in the universe. The brightest one we've ever observed was discovered in 2015 and was as bright as 570 billion Suns. Their luminosity signifies their significance in the cosmos. They produce the heavy elements that make up people and planets, and their shockwaves trigger the formation of the next generation of stars.

There are about 3 supernovae every 100 hundred years in the Milky Way galaxy. Throughout human history, only a handful of supernovae have been observed. The earliest recorded supernova was observed by Chinese astronomers in 185 AD. The most famous supernova is probably SN 1054 (historic supernovae are named for the year they were observed) which created the Crab Nebula. Now, thanks to all of our telescopes and observatories, observing supernovae is fairly routine.

The supernova that produced the Crab Nebula was detected by naked-eye observers around the world in 1054 A.D. This composite image uses data from NASA's Great Observatories, Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer, to show that a superdense neutron star is energizing the expanding Nebula by spewing out magnetic fields and a blizzard of extremely high-energy particles. The Chandra X-ray image is shown in light blue, the Hubble Space Telescope optical images are in green and dark blue, and the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared image is in red. The size of the X-ray image is smaller than the others because ultrahigh-energy X-ray emitting electrons radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower-energy electrons emitting optical and infrared light. The neutron star is the bright white dot in the center of the image.

The supernova that produced the Crab Nebula was detected by naked-eye observers around the world in 1054 A.D. This composite image uses data from NASA's Great Observatories, Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer.

But one thing astronomers have never observed is the very early stages of a supernova. That changed in 2013 when, by chance, the automated Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (IPTF) caught sight of a supernova only 3 hours old.

Spotting a supernovae in its first few hours is extremely important, because we can quickly point other 'scopes at it and gather data about the SN's progenitor star. In this case, according to a paper published at Nature Physics, follow-up observations revealed a surprise: SN 2013fs was surrounded by circumstellar material (CSM) that it ejected in the year prior to the supernova event. The CSM was ejected at a high rate of approximately 10 -³ solar masses per year. According to the paper, this kind of instability might be common among supernovae.

Catching the 3-hour-old SN 2013fs was an extremely lucky event. The IPTF is a fully-automated wide-field survey of the sky. It's a system of 11 CCD's installed on a telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. It takes 60 second exposures at frequencies from 5 days apart to 90 seconds apart. This is what allowed it to capture SN 2013fs in its early stages.

The 48 inch telescope at the Palomar Observatory. The IPTF is installed on this telescope. Image: IPTF/Palomar Observatory

Our understanding of supernovae is a mixture of theory and observed data. We know a lot about how they collapse, why they collapse, and what types of supernovae there are. But this is our first data point of a SN in its early hours.

The supernova, called SN 2013fs, is 160 million light years away in a spiral-arm galaxy called NGC7610. It's a type II supernova, meaning that it's at least 8 times as massive as our Sun, but not more than 50 times as massive. Type II supernovae are mostly observed in the spiral arms of galaxies.

A supernova is the end state of some of the stars in the universe. But not all stars. Only massive stars can become supernova. Our own Sun is much too small.

Stars are like dynamic balancing acts between two forces: fusion and gravity.

As hydrogen is fused into helium in the center of a star, it causes enormous outward pressure in the form of photons. That is what lights and warms our planet. But stars are, of course, enormously massive. And all that mass is subject to gravity, which pulls the star's mass inward. So the fusion and the gravity more or less balance each other out. This is called stellar equilibrium, which is the state our Sun is in, and will be in for several billion more years.

But stars don't last forever, or rather, their hydrogen doesn't. And once the hydrogen runs out, the star begins to change. In the case of a massive star, it begins to fuse heavier and heavier elements, until it fuses iron and nickel in its core. The fusion of iron and nickel is a natural fusion limit in a star, and once it reaches the iron and nickel fusion stage, fusion stops. We now have a star with an inert core of iron and nickel.

Now that fusion has stopped, stellar equilibrium is broken, and the enormous gravitational pressure of the star's mass causes a collapse. This rapid collapse causes the core to heat again, which halts the collapse and causes a massive outwards shockwave. The shockwave hits the outer stellar material and blasts it out into space. Voila, a supernova.

The extremely high temperatures of the shockwave have one more important effect. It heats the stellar material outside the core, though very briefly, which allows the fusion of elements heavier than iron. This explains why the extremely heavy elements like uranium are much rarer than lighter elements. Only large enough stars that go supernova can forge the heaviest elements.

In a nutshell, that is a type II supernova, the same type found in 2013 when it was only 3 hours old. How the discovery of the CSM ejected by SN 2013fs will grow our understanding of supernovae is not fully understood.

Supernovae are fairly well-understood events, but their are still many questions surrounding them. Whether these new observations of the very earliest stages of a supernovae will answer these questions remains to be seen.

Evan Gough | February 14, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Tags: Featured | URL: http://wp.me/p1CHIY-yHS
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Distance & Speed Of Sun’s Orbit Around Galactic Centre Measured

New post on Universe Today

Distance & Speed Of Sun's Orbit Around Galactic Centre Measured

by Matt Williams

In 2013, the European Space Agency deployed the long-awaited Gaia space observatory. As one of a handful of next-generation space observatories that will be going up before the end of the decade, this mission has spent the past few years cataloging over a billion astronomical objects. Using this data, astronomers and astrophysicists hope to create the largest and most precise 3D map of the Milky Way to date.

Though it is almost to the end of its mission, much of its earliest information is still bearing fruit. For example, using the mission's initial data release, a team of astrophysicists from the University of Toronto managed to calculate the speed at which the Sun orbits the Milky Way. From this, they were able to obtain a precise distance estimate between our Sun and the center of the galaxy for the first time.

For some time, astronomers have been unsure as to exactly how are far our Solar System is from the center of our galaxy. Much of this has to do with the fact that it is impossible to view it directly, due to a combination of factors (i.e. perspective, the size of our galaxy, and visibility barriers). As a result, since the year 2000, official estimates have varied between 7.2 and 8.8 kiloparsecs (~23,483 to 28,700 light years).

Astronomy Image Gallery

Infrared image from Spitzer Space Telescope, showing the stars at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (SSC/Caltech)

For the sake of their study, the team - which was led by Jason Hunt, a Dunlap Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto - combined Gaia's initial release with data from the RAdial Velocity Experiment (RAVE). This survey, which conducted between 2003 and 2013 by the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), measured the positions, distances, radial velocities and spectra of 500,000 stars.

Over 200,000 of these stars were also observed by Gaia and information on them was included in its initial data release. As they explain in their study, which was published in the Journal of Astrophysical Letters in November 2016, they used this to examined the speeds at which these stars orbit the center of the galaxy (relative to the Sun), and in the process discovered that there was an apparent distribution in their relative velocities.

In short, our Sun moves around the center of the Milky Way at a speed of 240 km/s (149 mi/s), or 864,000 km/h (536,865 mph). Naturally, some of the more than 200,000 candidates were moving faster or slower. But for some, there was no apparent angular momentum, which they attributed to these stars being scattering onto "chaotic, halo-type orbits when they pass through the Galactic nucleus".

As Hunt explained in Dunlap Institute press release:

"Stars with very close to zero angular momentum would have plunged towards the Galactic center where they would be strongly affected by the extreme gravitational forces present there. This would scatter them into chaotic orbits taking them far above the Galactic plane and away from the Solar neighbourhood... By measuring the velocity with which nearby stars rotate around our Galaxy with respect to the Sun, we can observe a lack of stars with a specific negative relative velocity. And because we know this dip corresponds to 0 km/sec, it tells us, in turn, how fast we are moving."

Detection of an unusually bright X-Ray flare from Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al.

The next step was to combine this information with proper motion calculations of Sagittarius A* - the supermassive black hole believed to be at the center of our galaxy. After correcting for its motion relative to background objects, they were able to effectively triangulate the Earth's distance from the center of the galaxy. From this, they derived a refined distance of estimate of 7.6 to 8.2 kpc - which works out to about 24,788 to 26,745 light years.

This study builds upon previous work conducted by the study's co-authors - Prof. Ray Calberg, the current chair of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. Years ago, he and Prof. Kimmo Innanen of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at York University conducted a similar study using radial velocity measurement from 400 of the Milky Way's stars.

But by incorporating data from the Gaia observatory, the UofT team was able to obtain a much more comprehensive data set and narrow the distance to galactic center by a significant amount. And this was based on only the initial data released by the Gaia mission. Looking ahead, Hunt anticipates that further data releases will allow his team and other astronomers to refine their calculations even more.

"Gaia's final release in late 2017 should enable us to increase the precision of our measurement of the Sun's velocity to within approximately one km/sec," he said, "which in turn will significantly increase the accuracy of our measurement of our distance from the Galactic center."

As more next-generation space telescopes and observatories are deployed, we can expect them to provide us with a wealth of new information about our Universe. And from this, we can expect that astronomers and astrophysicists will begin to shine the light on a number of unresolved cosmological questions.

Further Reading: University of Toronto, The Astrophysical Journal Letters

Matt Williams | February 14, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Tags: Featured | URL: http://wp.me/p1CHIY-yHQ
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[eo-announce] Earth Observatory: What's New Week of 14 February 2017

The latest from NASA's Earth Observatory (14 February 2017)

New Features:

* El Niño: Pacific Wind and Current Changes Bring Warm, Wild Weather
    El Niño is one of the most important weather-producing phenomena on Earth. The changing ocean conditions disrupt weather patterns and marine life in the Pacific and around the world. Satellites are unraveling the many traits of this wild child of weather.


Latest Images:

* Glacial "Aftershock" Spawns Antarctic Iceberg

* Drought Turns to Deluge in California

* Dek and Daga Islands, Ethiopia

* Shadegan Pond

* New Zealand: Where River and Winds Weave

* Finding Fires in Peru

* Cleaning Up Cookstoves

* The Zones of Kilimanjaro


Recent Blog Posts:

Earth Matters
* Satellite Images We Love
  Here are a few of the images from our archive that our staff love the most.

* Using Satellites to Size Up the Severity of Crop Fires in Northern India

Notes from the Field
* Every Other Breath


NASA's Earth Observatory
Where every day is Earth day.

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