September 21, 2017

Review: Under the Radar by W.M. Goss & Richard X. McGee.

Out from Springer Press!

Among the well known personalities of science there lies those who have labored quietly but have an equally interesting story to tell. This week, we take a look at Under the Radar, a biography of the first woman in radio astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott out from Springer Press. [Read more...]

17.05.11: A “Cosmic Hand.”

Pulsar PSR B1509-58. (Credit: NASA/Chandra/CXC/SAO/P. Slane et al.)

“Wow…” Of course, this word often applies itself to the jaw-dropping field of astronomy… but the picture above really merits it. The image was snapped by the Chandra X-ray observatory. It displays pulsar PSR B1509-58 within a hand-shaped nebula located about 17,000 light years distant. [Read more...]

28.03.11: Einstein@Home Bags Pulsar #2.

Pulsars in a tight orbit…(Artists conception credit: NASA/Goddard).

Crowd-sourced citizen science bagged another astrophysical biggie this month. Einstein@Home, everyone’s favorite desktop screensaver program, announced the discovery of a new potential pulsar pair earlier this month. Like SETI@Home, this program utilizes idle computing time to analyze avalanches of data looking for signals. In the case of Einstein@Home, the data received comes from LIGO,VIRGO, and more recently, Arecibo. [Read more...]

2010: The Year in Science

2010 has been a tumultuous year in space and astronomical science. We’ve seen the beginning of a huge transition for manned space flight, as well as a look ahead at what astronomers would wish for if they had their say. What follows are a baker’s dozen of the biggest, weirdest, and most controversial science articles that made our astro-radar in 2010;

[Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: Spy a Microquasar.

Artists' Conception of SS 433. (NASA/CXC/M. Weiss).

Artists' Conception of SS 433. (NASA/CXC/M. Weiss).


   So, you’ve seen everything the night sky has to offer? You say you’ve seen all breeds of eclipses and deep sky objects, and have grown tired of showing the neighbors Saturn and the Ring Nebula? Well, we’ve got a challenge for you. This week’s object will require dark skies, a good finder chart, and a generous aperture telescope.  About 4 degrees northwest of the 3rd magnitude star Delta Aquilae lies +14.1 magnitude SS 433. [Read more...]

02.04.10- Cassiopeia A: A Quark Star?

Cas A as imaged by Hubble. (Credit: NASA/ESA/ Robert Fesen/James Long).

Cas A as imaged by Hubble. (Credit: NASA/ESA/ Robert Fesen/James Long).


   The supernova remnant Cassiopeia A holds a compelling astrophysical mystery. Located about 10,000 light years away, this strong radio source was identified in 1947 and remains the most recent galactic supernova known. One slightly odd fact revolves around Cas A; despite its having burst about 325 years ago as seen from Earth, no reliable records exist of the event. Evidence of the event may have been obscured by intervening galactic dust.  Some intriguing indications show that John Flamsteed may have misidentified the supernova as a sixth magnitude star in Cassiopeia during one of his surveys, but now Cas A may be the home of a even more bizarre denizen; a quark star. This theory stems from the fact that the remnant host appears to be only 10 km across, smaller than your average neutron star. At that density, neutrons loose all individual identity and merge into a huge ball of quark strange matter, a “strange” object indeed. First spotted by the Chandra X-Ray observatory in 1999, this “quark star” would be the first of its kind. Of course, an alternative hypothesis, put forth by Wynn Ho and Craig Heinke of Southampton University, states that we’re merely seeing a normal neutron star of about 25 km in diameter shining through a carbon atom haze. Does astrophysics need to get any weirder?

LIGO: A Quest for Gravity Waves.

LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).
LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).

We had to go there… last month’s NASA Tweetup at the Johnson Spaceflight Center saw us undertake the great American road trip from Astroguyz HQ north of Tampa, Florida, to Houston on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and back. Ever the opportunists, we scoured the route for any astronomical pilgrimages of note. Then, like a bolt from the sky, a lone commenter drew our attention to a recent news piece we did on LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory[Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: What’s so Special About 51 Pegasi?

A northern hemisphere finder chart for 51 Peg, looking NW after dusk. (Created in Starry Night).

A northern hemisphere finder chart for 51 Peg, looking NW after dusk. (Created in Starry Night).

It’s hard to imagine a time before we knew of worlds beyond our own solar system. These days, extra-solar (or “exoplanets”) are back page news, as discoveries occur almost daily.  But scant decades ago (Waaay back in the pre-Internet Stone Age of the early 1990’s) no exoplanets were known, and the entire field was open to great conjecture. This was also one of the great variables underpinning the famous Drake Equation which attempts to quantify how many intelligent civilizations might exist in our galaxy; i.e. “how many stars possess solar systems?” That all changed in the 90’s, and the discovery of a planet in October 1995 by Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler orbiting the star 51 Pegasi in the constellation Pegasus was pivotal in opening the flood gates. [Read more...]

23.10.09:Fermi Pegs Gamma-Ray Pulsars.

the gamma-ray sky as seen by Fermi. (Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT team).

The gamma-ray sky as seen by Fermi. the plane of our galaxy runs down the center, while pulsars dot the periphery. (Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT team).

NASA’s Large Area Telescope aboard the orbiting Fermi gamma-ray observatory continues to turn out some amazing science, picking up where Compton left off in 2002 as it surveys the gamma-ray sky. Of particular interest are gamma-rays emitted from pulsars. Pulsars are the swiftly rotating remnants of massive stars that have gone supernova, leaving a superdense core in their wake. These are sometimes called “neutron stars” because the matter comprising them is packed so tightly the individual nuclei are literally stacked end to end, making a spoonful weigh as much as a mountain! After all, most ordinary matter is made of….nothing. A neutron star can be thought of as a large, singular atomic nucleus, again weird stuff. Most of the 1,800 pulsars thus detected are because of their copious radio emissions beaming from their poles. Thus, we have to be in the line of sight before we see their blinking radio pulsations. Enter Fermi, which has thus far spotted 16 new pulsars via their gamma-ray emissions alone. This promises to aid in identifying pulsars whose poles aren’t tipped to our line of sight, which are probably in the majority. But even the gamma-ray sky is relatively dim; for example, the Vela pulsar is one of the brightest in the sky, and it emits a mere 1 gamma-ray photon every 2 minutes! Initially dubbed “Little Green Men” (LGMs!) during their discovery in the 1960′s, pulsars were soon naturally explained, but still continue to amaze. Watch this space and the Fermi mission for news from the high energy end of the spectrum!

August 2009:News & Notes



You can almost see Neil's foot print! (Credit: NASA/LRO).

You can almost see Neil's foot print! (Credit: NASA/LRO).


- The LRO Photographs the Apollo landing sites: Fans of this space may have noticed the racy lunar pics we ran a week back as part of our From Earth to the Moon review. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter did indeed snap pics of the famous Apollo landing sites last month. These clearly show the hardware left at multiple sites, as well as the base(s) of the Lunar Lander ascent stages, complete with shadow. You can even see the astronaut’s foot trails in the lunar dust! And the LRO hasn’t even entered its cruising orbit yet… expect more great pics to come! [Read more...]

August 08 News & Notes.

Odd-Ball Pair: Astronomers have recently found a binary system that shouldn’t exist; a fast millisecond pulsar in orbit around a sun-like star. [Read more...]