Institute of Astronomy

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Audio long-read: Pluto’s dark side is overflowing with secrets

Astronomy News - 9 hours 41 min ago

Nature, Published online: 07 August 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02327-z

Images sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft reveal much about this mysterious dwarf planet’s far side and hint at the existence of a subterranean ocean.

Crunch, rip, freeze or decay — how will the Universe end?

Astronomy News - 9 hours 41 min ago

Nature, Published online: 10 August 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02338-w

Astrophysicist Katie Mack’s book explores all the ways the cosmos could destroy itself.

NASA Sounding Rocket Finds Helium Structures in Sun’s Atmosphere

Astronomy News - 8 August 2020 - 3:14pm
Portal origin URL: NASA Sounding Rocket Finds Helium Structures in Sun’s AtmospherePortal origin nid: 463429Published: Friday, August 7, 2020 - 12:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen. But scientists aren’t sure just how much there actually is in the Sun’s atmosphere. NASA's HERSCHEL sounding rocket has taken the first global measurements of helium in the extended solar atmosphere – a key piece of information for understanding our space environment.Portal image: three images depicting Sun's low corona, with hydrogen (left, in blue) and helium (center and right, in orange) concentrations

Global maps of the magnetic field in the solar corona

Astronomy News - 7 August 2020 - 9:20am

Understanding many physical processes in the solar atmosphere requires determination of the magnetic field in each atmospheric layer. However, direct measurements of the magnetic field in the Sun’s corona are difficult to obtain. Using observations with the Coronal Multi-channel Polarimeter, we have determined the spatial distribution of the plasma density in the corona and the phase speed of the prevailing transverse magnetohydrodynamic waves within the plasma. We combined these measurements to map the plane-of-sky component of the global coronal magnetic field. The derived field strengths in the corona, from 1.05 to 1.35 solar radii, are mostly 1 to 4 gauss. Our results demonstrate the capability of imaging spectroscopy in coronal magnetic field diagnostics.

NASA to Reexamine Nicknames for Cosmic Objects

Astronomy News - 7 August 2020 - 8:54am
Portal origin URL: NASA to Reexamine Nicknames for Cosmic ObjectsPortal origin nid: 463338Published: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - 08:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Distant cosmic objects such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae are sometimes referred to by the scientific community with unofficial nicknames.Portal image: NGC 2392

A measurement of the equation of state of carbon envelopes of white dwarfs

Astronomy News - 6 August 2020 - 9:01am

Nature, Published online: 05 August 2020; doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2535-y

Researchers have measured the equation of state of hydrocarbon in a high-density regime, which is necessary for accurate modelling of the oscillations of white dwarf stars.

Small lightning flashes from shallow electrical storms on Jupiter

Astronomy News - 6 August 2020 - 9:01am

Nature, Published online: 05 August 2020; doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2532-1

Small lightning flashes detected on Jupiter by Juno have shallow origins above the 2-bar level of Jupiter’s atmosphere where temperatures are too low for liquid water to exist.

Uncovering Our Solar System’s Shape

Astronomy News - 6 August 2020 - 9:00am
Portal origin URL: Uncovering Our Solar System’s ShapePortal origin nid: 463367Published: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - 10:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Scientists have developed a new prediction of the shape of the bubble surrounding our solar system using a model developed with data from NASA missions.Portal image: Model showing the heliosphere appearing as a deflated croissant shape, wrapped in the interstellar magnetic field

Pulsing Stars Distribute Key Ingredient for Life

Astronomy News - 5 August 2020 - 8:59am
Portal origin URL: Pulsing Stars Distribute Key Ingredient for Life Portal origin nid: 463328Published: Monday, August 3, 2020 - 18:29Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy examined several types of pulsating stars in our Milky Way galaxy, watching as some spewed carbon, a key ingredient of life as we know it, into interstellar space.Portal image: A yellow star surrounded by a clumpy envelope of dust.

Katie Mack: 'Knowing how the universe will end is freeing'

Astronomy News - 4 August 2020 - 9:14am

Astrophysicist Katie Mack has been researching The End of Everything.

Migrating big astronomy data to the cloud

Astronomy News - 4 August 2020 - 9:13am

Nature, Published online: 03 August 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02284-7

Six lessons from astronomy’s embrace of cloud computing.

NASA Sun Data Helps New Model Predict Big Solar Flares

Astronomy News - 1 August 2020 - 4:20pm
Portal origin URL: NASA Sun Data Helps New Model Predict Big Solar FlaresPortal origin nid: 463252Published: Friday, July 31, 2020 - 11:36Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Using data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, scientists have developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun’s biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine. With more development, the model could be used to one day inform forecasts of these intense bursts of solar radiation.Portal image: A satellite image of the Sun, colorized in gold-purple. A bright burst of light shines from below the left horizon.

Stunning Space Butterfly Captured by ESO Telescope

Astronomy News - 31 July 2020 - 8:56am
Resembling a butterfly with its symmetrical structure, beautiful colours, and intricate patterns, this striking bubble of gas — known as NGC 2899 — appears to float and flutter across the sky in this new picture from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars.

A physics-based method that can predict imminent large solar flares

Astronomy News - 31 July 2020 - 8:51am

Solar flares are highly energetic events in the Sun’s corona that affect Earth’s space weather. The mechanism that drives the onset of solar flares is unknown, hampering efforts to forecast them, which mostly rely on empirical methods. We present the -scheme, a physics-based model to predict large solar flares through a critical condition of magnetohydrodynamic instability, triggered by magnetic reconnection. Analysis of the largest (X-class) flares from 2008 to 2019 (during solar cycle 24) shows that the -scheme predicts most imminent large solar flares, with a small number of exceptions for confined flares. We conclude that magnetic twist flux density, close to a magnetic polarity inversion line on the solar surface, determines when and where solar flares may occur and how large they can be.

Pluto’s dark side spills its secrets — including hints of a hidden ocean

Astronomy News - 30 July 2020 - 9:04am

Nature, Published online: 29 July 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02082-1

Images of the dwarf planet’s far side are revealing possible signs of liquid water, mysterious shards of ice and new theories for the frigid world’s birth.

The Phoenix stellar stream rose from the ashes of an ancient star cluster

Astronomy News - 30 July 2020 - 9:03am

Nature, Published online: 29 July 2020; doi:10.1038/d41586-020-02046-5

Observations of a star system called the Phoenix stellar stream offer the first evidence of vanished star clusters that had extremely low levels of heavy elements. Their remnants might cast light on the early assembly of the Milky Way.