This is an exotic type of Neutron Star known as a Magnetar. Its Magnetic field is so strong, if it came close enough to us, it would wipe clean every credit card on Earth.
The other type of Neutron Star is a Pulsar. This is an extremely small (15 km in diameter, about the size of a small city) and compact star. Its so dense, that a spoonful of its matter would weigh more than the moon. A notable feature of these types of stars is there rapid spinning, and electromagnetic jets shooting out from there north an south poles. Consequently, these stars act light "stellar lighthouses". Not only that, they are the best "clocks" in the universe as they have constant spin which gives them a constant pulse (a rhythmic sound detected by astronomers, caused by the rapid spin of the star).
Scientists around the globe are bracing themselves for what could be the best view yet of the black hole ahead of its collision with a gas cloud.
The black hole, called "Sagittarius A*", could provide a stunning series of galactic fireworks if it collides with the gas cloud - which has a mass about three times that of Earth - currently heading in its direction.
First identified by German scientists three years ago, they originally believed the collision would occur last year. However, astronomers have predicted that the collision will now happen sometime in March.
The gas cloud, dubbed "G2", is expected to travel so close to the black hole that it will cause it to heat up and create a chain of sensational bright lights.
Many scientists are eagerly anticipating the event due to the educational value of the experience, with information about the gravitational effects of the hole and the extent of its power likely to be revealed.
Sagittarius A* is one of the dimmest black holes of the supermassive variety - which are much less visible than other black holes - so the event could provide the opportunity for a better viewing for scientists in the future.
Jon Miller, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan, said: "I would be delighted if Sagittarius A* suddenly became 10,000 times brighter. However, it is possible that it will not react much - like a horse that won't drink when led to water."
He added: "If Sagittarius A* consumes some of G2, we can learn about black holes accreting at low levels - sneaking midnight snacks. It is potentially a unique window into how most black holes in the present-day universe accrete."
Supernova detected in the galaxy next door: Type 1a explosion spotted in Galaxy M82
The stellar explosion is the closest to be spotted since 1987 and will provide a 'galactic yardstick' for astronomers judging distances across the universe
Exploding stars rarely make astronomers blink. Not because they're incredibly jaded but simply because supernovae are a fairly common event. However, when a star explodes only 11.4 million light years away (practically next door in astronomical terms) they really sit up and take notice.
This is the case with supernova M82, a stellar explosion so close to Earth that it could soon be visible with binoculars. Named after its nearest galaxy, supernova M82 looks to be the brightest of its kind observed since 1987, and is expected to increase in brightness of the next two weeks.
Supernovae occur when a star - or more than one stars - explode, emitting in a matter of weeks as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire lifespan (around 10 billion years - 4.6 billion of which it's gone through already).
There has been some contention over who was the first to spot the new supernova, with a team of amateur Russian astronomers in Blagoveshchensk and an astronomer from University College London, Steve Fossey, both claiming to have been first on the scene.
After Fossey spotted the supernova on 21 January he emailed colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. There, graduate student Yi Cao undertook a spectral analysis of the object, confirming that it was a supernova and identifying it as a type Ia event.
This is especially exciting for astronomers as the 1987 supernova was a type II. Type I supernovas occur through a process known as 'thermal runaway' between a binary system (a pair of stars) whilst type IIs are triggered by the core collapse of a single, massive star.
The M82 Galaxy - before and after. The crosshairs in the picture on the right show the appearance of the supernova. Image credit: UCL/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy POllack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright
Type Ia supernovae - as this event is suspected to be - begin with a pair of stars orbiting one another. At least one of the pair will be a white dwarf (the dense remnant of a star the size of our own Sun after it has exhausted all its nuclear fuel) whilst the other will usually be a red giant.
The denser white dwarf will then begin pulling matter away from its larger neighbour, and when it has absorbed enough nuclear fusion will reignite inside its core and it will explode.
Type 1a supernovae are particularly useful for astronomers as their variations in brightness follow a well-established pattern. This allows them to be used as 'standard candles' - objects of known luminosity that allow distances to be judged on the cosmic scale.
Because galaxy M82 (also known as the Cigar Galaxy) is so close to us, astronomers have plenty of pictures of the region prior to the supernova's appearance and have already begun comparing these images, sifting through the galactic dust to find out more about how supernovae create different elements.
As Shri Kulkarni, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, told the journal Nature: "Dust has its own charms."
Astronomy Cast Ep. 332: Stellar Collisions by SUSIE MURPH on FEBRUARY 3, 2014
Out here in the Milky Way's suburbs, stellar collisions are unheard of. But there are places in the galaxy where stars whiz past each other, and collisions can happen. When stars collide, it's a catastrophic event, and the stellar wreckage is visible half a galaxy away.
Kepler finds a very wobbly planet Kepler-413b is unusual because it wobbles, or precesses, wildly on its spin axis.
By STScl, Baltimore, Maryland, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. Published: Wednesday, February 05, 2014
This illustration shows the unusual orbit of planet Kepler-413b around a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars.
Imagine living on a planet with seasons so erratic you would hardly know what to wear â€" Bermuda shorts or a heavy overcoat. Thatâ€™s the situation on a weird wobbly world found by NASAâ€™s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.
The planet, designated Kepler-413b, is located 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It circles a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars every 66 days.
But what makes this planet unusual is that it wobbles, or precesses, wildly on its spin axis, much like a childâ€™s top. The tilt of the spin axis of the planet can vary by as much as 30Â° over 11 years, leading to the rapid and erratic changes in seasons. Contrast this to Earthâ€™s rotational precession: 23.5Â° over 26,000 years. The fact that this far-off planet is precessing on a human timescale is simply amazing.
Chances are you really wouldnâ€™t be wondering what to wear on this planet because itâ€™s a bit too warm for life as we know it. It orbits slightly closer to the stars than the inner edge of the systemâ€™s habitable zone, a region where temperatures allow for liquid water to exist. Itâ€™s also a gas giant planet of about 65 Earth masses â€" a super-Neptune â€" so there wouldnâ€™t be any surface to stand on.
The planetâ€™s orbit is unusual in that it is tilted 2.5Â° with respect to the plane of the binary starâ€™s orbit. Over an 11-year period, the planetâ€™s orbit also would appear to wobble as it circles around the star pair.
Astronomers using Kepler discovered this characteristic when they found an unusual pattern of transits for Kepler-413b. Normally, transiting planets are seen passing in front of their parent stars like clockwork. Kepler finds such planets by noticing the dimming of the parent star â€" or in this case, stars â€" as the planet travels in front of one of them.
â€śWhat we see in the Kepler data over 1,500 days is three transits in the first 180 days (one transit every 66 days), then we had 800 days with no transits at all,â€ť said Veselin Kostov from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. â€śAfter that, we saw five more transits in a row.â€ť
The next transit is not predicted to occur until 2020. This is due not only to the orbital wobble, but also to the small diameters of the stars and the fact that the orbital plane of the stars is not exactly edge-on to our line of sight. It just so happened that the astronomers caught the planet while it was transiting.
Because of the orbital wobble, the orbit continuously moves up or down relative to our view. This change is large enough that sometimes it misses passing in front of the stars, as seen from Earth.
To understand the complicated motions of this planet, imagine a bicycle wheel lying on its side. Spin the wheel while it is lying on the ground, and it will wobble. This is like the orbit of the planet. Now imagine putting a spinning top on the rim of the horizontal spinning wheel. This is like the wobbling motion of the planetâ€™s rotational precession.
Astronomers are still trying to explain why this planet is out of alignment with its stars. There could be other planetary bodies in the system that tilted the orbit. Or, it could be that a third star nearby that is a visual companion may actually be gravitationally bound to the system and exerting an influence.
â€śPresumably there are planets out there like this one that weâ€™re not seeing because weâ€™re in the unfavorable period,â€ť said Peter McCullough from STScI. â€śAnd thatâ€™s one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that weâ€™re not seeing?â€ť
Indian man's astronomy projects get NASA's approval Press Trust of India
Feb 06, 2014 14:52 (IST)
Srinagar: A Kashmiri man from a remote village of the Valley has won approval for two of his projects from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in the United States.
Asif Ali, who comes from a humble background from a village in Mattan area of south Kashmir district, Anantnag, is studying astronomy at Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Kerala, a defence spokesman said in Srinagar.
The two projects that Ali will work on include those on estimation of asteroids and the effect of gamma ray emissions.
"NASA is supporting his project works and accepting his research idea as a major leap forward in his career," the spokesman said.
Ali, who has done B.Tech from IIST and is currently doing MS in astronomy from the same college, will be headed to NASA soon to start work on his projects.
"I will be flying to NASA, US, soon to start my project work. After I return, I have some more projects in my mind that would cater to telecommunication problems faced by our state in particular and India in general," he said.
Ali is an alumnus of Army Goodwill School at Aishmuqam in Anantnag district and has done his higher studies at Government Higher Secondary School in his native area.
His father retired as an officer from the Animal Husbandry Department and his mother is a housewife.
"I have not been to elite schools of towns and cities. I dreamt of making big in life while studying at my native place in a remote area. However, to fulfil my aspirations, I went to a good college in Kerala under the guidance of brilliant mentors. I worked hard. My core interest was always astronomy," he said.
His achievement was recently acknowledged by the Army, which felicitated him in the presence of engineering students in Anantnag, the spokesman said.
Curiosity rover posted the photo on Twitter during its 529th Martian day
You are here: Earth appears like a 'bright evening star' from Mars
By CHRISTOPHER HOOTON
Friday 07 February 2014
Nasa's Curiosity rover has taken a photograph of Earth from the surface of Mars, showing what our planet looks like from 100 million miles away.
It's rare that a single dot on a computer screen can elicit such a strong reaction, but there is something mind-blowing about Earth's diminutive appearance in the image.
While we are used to seeing vivid greens and blues and swirling cloud when the Earth is photographed from space, from this distance the planet and its moon appear like no more than a couple of bright 'evening stars'.
The picture was posted on the official Twitter account for Curiosity, which Nasa has taken to anthropomorphising, with the rover tweeting on Thursday: "Look Back in Wonder... My 1st picture of Earth from the surface of Mars."
Taken about 80 minutes after Mars' sunset on Curiosity's 529th Martian day using its 'left eye camera', the image was 'processed to remove effects of cosmic rays', with Nasa releasing a second image blowing up the smudge to make Earth and the Moon clearly visible.
"A human observer with normal vision, if standing on Mars, could easily see Earth and the moon as two distinct, bright evening stars," a Nasa spokesperson said.
Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions, exploring whether it is possible that the planet once supported life.
Since landing in Gale Crater, it has discovered that an area known as Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable once upon a time, finding "a lake-stream-groundwater system that might have existed for millions of years."
Australian astronomers on Sunday said they had found a star 13.6 billion years old, making it the most ancient star ever seen.
The star was formed just a couple of hundred million years after the Big Bang that brought the Universe into being, they believe.
Previous contenders for the title of oldest star are around 13.2 billion years old -- two objects described by European and US teams respectively in 2007 and 2013.
Stefan Keller at the Australian National University in the Australian capital, Canberra, said the Methuselah star is -- in cosmic terms -- relatively close to us.
It lies in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, at a distance of around 6,000 light years from Earth. The star catalogues list it by the number of SMSS J031300.36-670839.3.
"The telltale sign that the star is so ancient is the complete absence of any detectable level of iron in the spectrum of light emerging from the star," Keller said in an email exchange with AFP about the study.
The Big Bang gave rise to a Universe filled with hydrogen, helium, and a trace of lithium, he explained.
All the other elements that we see today were forged in stars, which are born in clouds of gas and dust bequeathed by supernovae -- huge stars that explode at the end of their life.
This endless recycling process has yielded an intriguing tool for astrophysicists.
One way of determining stellar age is iron, whose content in a star enriches with every successive birth.
Thus the lower the iron content in a star's light spectrum, the older it is.
"The iron level of the Universe increases with time as successive generations of stars form and die," said Keller.
"We can use the iron abundance of a star as a qualitative 'clock' telling us when the star was formed.
"In the case of the star we have announced, the amount of iron present is less than one millionth that of the Sun and a factor of at least 60 times less than any other known star. This indicates that our star is the most ancient yet found."
The star was discovered using the Australian National University's SkyMapper telescope, which is carrying out a five-year survey of the southern sky.
The progenitor of the star was material from a low-energy supernova, from a star whose mass was roughly 60 times that of the Sun, according to the paper, published in the journal Nature.
Previous sweeps of the sky have turned up four other stars with similar very low iron content, which suggests that these kind of supernovae played a vital role in creating stars, and then galaxies, in the early Universe, it said.
Big Venus and small Jupiter: Galileo's astronomical puzzle is solved after 400 years
A visual illusion that makes Venus look bigger than Jupiter has finally been explained
Venus (left) and Jupiter (right) seen above a crescent Moon
By STEVE CONNOR
Monday 10 February 2014
Scientists have finally come up with an explanation for a visual illusion that was first identified in the 16 Century by Galileo Galilei who noticed how large the planet Venus appears to the naked eye when compared to Jupiter - which is quite the reverse when seen through a telescope.
Venus is nearer to Earth than Jupiter and therefore appears brighter in the night sky, however this alone cannot account for its larger-than-life appearance. There must be another reason to do with the way the eye perceives light compared to the optical reality of a telescope, scientists said.
Viewed directly with the naked eye, Venus appears to have a "radiant crown" which makes it look eight to ten times bigger than Jupiter even though Jupiter is four times larger when seen from Earth.
Galileo was the first to realise that this radiant crown was something to do with human perception, or, as he described it, an "impediment of our eyes" which the telescope eliminated, but he put it down to some kind of optical interference to the light from the planets as the light entered the human eye.
However, scientists have now shown that the effect is caused by the way the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye respond to images of different intensity set against a dark background. Venus appears larger because its brighter-than-Jupiter image is much exaggerated by the visual centres of the brain to create a bigger radiant crown than Jupiter's, according to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They believe the effect influences the way we see everything because the human retina and brain are finely tuned to respond to the contrast between light objects against a dark background. This makes them appear larger than light objects of the same size set against a light background, said Jose-Manuel Alonso of the State University of New York College of Optometry.
"Galileo was the first to say that our eye was distorting reality. He could see that Venus appeared to be much larger than Jupiter when seen with the naked eye and that the opposite was true when he looked through his telescope," Dr Alonso said.
Galileo said that the effect was some kind of size illusion created by the eyes. "Either because their light is refracted in the moisture that cover the pupil, or because it is reflected from the edges of the eyelids and these reflected rays are diffused over the pupil, or for some other reasons," Galileo wrote.
The 19 Century German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz came nearer to the truth when he said that the "irradiation illusion", as he called it, was caused by our sensation of the object and not by the optics of the eye.
"The latest research demonstrates that the sensation Helmholtz used to explain the irradiation illusion is a 'non-linear' response of the visual system when objects are presented on dark backgrounds," Dr Alonso explained.
The edges of a light object appear blurred and this is effectively magnified by the brain so that the entire object appears bigger than it should. Venus, being nearer to Earth, is brighter than Jupiter and so it appears bigger against the dark background of the night sky, he said.
The discovery of the star - thought to be 13.8 billion years old - is helping scientists reimagine the universe immediately following the Big Bang
An image of the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy seen in infrared light by the Herschel Space Observatory. Regions of space such as this are where new stars are born from a mixture of elements and cosmic dust.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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