December 12, 2017

20.06.10: The Low Down on WASP-12b.

A bizarre exo-world just got stranger in the past month, but not in the way many news outlets would have you believe. WASP-12b is destined for a short life, one that we many have been fortunate enough to catch it in the middle of. The story starts in 2008, with the transiting exoplanet’s discovery by the UKs Wide Area Search for Planets (WASP) array. The primary star, WASP-12, is a yellow dwarf located 600 light years distant in the constellation Auriga. Even at that time, it was known that WASP-12b was strange; it whizzed around its star in only 26 hours and had to be sizzling. Now, follow-up measurements with the Hubble Space Telescope and its newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph have indeed revealed a world in peril; at 2800° degrees Fahrenheit, WASP-12b is bloated up to three times the radius of Jupiter, although it only contains 1.4 times its mass. COS was able to identify manganese, tin, and aluminum in the spectra of the atmosphere as the planet transited its host star, using its sensitivity in the ultraviolet to pin down key measurements such as its diameter. This would put the Roche Limit of the planet well beyond what its own gravity can retain. WASP-12b is more than likely feeding material to its stellar host, an act it can’t maintain forever. Calculations show that WASP-12b will cease to exist in about 10 million years or so.  It does, however, give astronomers an opportunity to gather a spectrum for study of a hot Jupiter in action… The WASP-12b story also fueled an avalanche of bad science stories, along the lines of “Cannibal Star 600 Million Light Years Distant Consumes Planet!” as if such a star bent on evil were inbound or headed our way. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, guys… you keep us science news bloggers employed!

Review: INOVA’s X5 UV flashlight.

Last week, we delved into the exciting world of orbital ultraviolet astronomy. Keeping with a theme, this week, we here at Astroguyz will review a favorite new toy of ours; the INOVA X5 personal UV flashlight.

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26.05.10: SDO and the Coronal Rain.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory continues to astound. Launched earlier this year, SDO is already providing insight into key solar mysteries. One long standing mystery has been the action of what’s termed “coronal rain.” This long documented phenomenon is caused by super heated blobs of plasma in-falling back to the fiery surface of the Sun. But until now, no one could adequately model the slowing down of this sinking material. It was as if an unidentified medium existed, “cushioning” the fall of the coronal rain. In a recent news conference, SDO scientists revealed a key culprit; an underlying area of hot gas. What makes SDO standout from previous solar observatories is its acute temperature sensing technology. Utilizing its ultraviolet Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), SDO can probe the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere as never before. The picture emerging is of relatively cool (60,000 K) plasma falling through hotter material standing between 1,000,000 K and 2,200,000 K.

All of this portends to a future understanding of our Sun in intimate detail. As Solar Cycle #24 gets underway, Platforms like SDO will study our nearest star in unprecedented resolution. As Dick Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division stated; “I’ve never seen images like this…” Keep em’ coming!

The Great Orbiting Observatories II: The Ultraviolet.

When we last left our installment of this saga, we covered the observatories that target the visible edge of our spectrum. This is a narrow slice; a tiny sliver of what we call the electromagnetic spectrum. This week, we move into the ultraviolet, a span of the spectrum at roughly between 10 to 320 nanometers. UV from space is almost entirely absorbed by our atmosphere, and thus, if you want to observe the universe or do UV astronomy, you have to go into space to do it.

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