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Old 04-28-2014, 02:19 PM   #26
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

New Evidence That There Are Many Ways to Build a Solar System

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Prior to the discovery of exoplanets, astronomers assumed that our solar system's configuration was typical. But now, some 1,715 exoplanets later, we know that we're far from ordinary. So what passes for "normal" in the annals of solar systems? Here's what we know now.

Top Image: Artistic impression of Kepler 186f by Ron Miller (used with permission).

Astronomers used to believe that our solar system was representative of most — if not all — planetary systems.

"I think it's fair to say that most astronomers assumed that our solar system was unlikely to be an anomaly," says Eric B. Ford. He's with the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA.

For some cases the assumption was explicit, but in other cases, we simply didn't think about planetary systems that were very different from our own," he told io9.

This made perfect sense at the time given the lack of empirical evidence to suggest otherwise. It was a valid application of the Copernican Principle (i.e. we shouldn't assume that we're special in the large scheme of things). Moreover, our solar system has a kind of logical and consistent flavor to it, one in which small, rocky planets are parked on the inside, and large gas giants hang out on the outside — and all in tidy, nearly circular orbits.

But as Ford points out in a paper that now appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we now know that our solar system is atypical in multiple ways. The discovery of exoplanets, he says, is providing many opportunities for improving our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems.

No Two Are The Same

Planet-hunting projects, like NASA's Kepler mission and the California Planet Survey, are providing a slew of data for scientists to pour over. Back in February of this year, for example, NASA confirmed the existence of 715 new exoplanets — an announcement that increased the figure of known exoplanets by a factor of 70%. And it was less than two weeks ago that astronomers found the first Earth-sized, habitable zone planet. These days, the challenge for planetary astronomers is to make sense of all these findings.

Needless to say, and as Ford told me, it's still premature to put a single figure on of the total number of solar system architectures.

"We're still trying to make sense of all the planetary systems were finding, so there's not a single number," he noted. "That said, we are already starting to recognize that some architectures are showing up many times in our planet searches."

I asked Ford why there are so many different types of solar systems.

"When planets start forming somewhere, they don't know how big they will become," he explained. "So often multiple planets start growing up so close to each other that some sort of violent outcome is inevitable as they grow in mass."

Planet formation starts when gas and dust swirls around what will become a star. Some of the dust sticks together to form into pebbles, some pebbles grow into planetessimals, and planetessimals grow into planets.

"Of course, growing from a collection of gaseous atoms to a giant or even rocky planet, there are humongous changes in the sizes, masses and relevant physics," Ford told io9. "If it were simple, we would have already figured it out."

That said, Ford says there are several planet-types and solar system architectures that appear to be fairly common throughout the galaxy.

Hot Jupiters

One of the first planetary models to emerge was one featuring a giant planet orbiting very closely to its host star — a so-called hot Jupiter. These systems typically feature a gap between the gas giant and any additional planets further away from the host star. Hot Jupiters feature orbital periods of up to several days and masses comparable to that of Jupiter or Saturn. As more observations have been made, however, astronomers have extended the median orbital period of these planets to about a year. They also know that they're rarer than initially presumed (a product of observational selection effects — and a problem that plagues every observation).

In terms of how hot Jupiters form, the going theory is that they begin as a rocky core far away from their host star, followed by the accretion of a gaseous envelope, and then the migration to an uncomfortably close orbital location (sometimes as close as ~2-5 day orbital periods).

Scientists aren't entirely sure why the migration occurs, but it could happen as the result of a gradual migration through the protoplanetary disk, or the result of dramatic gravitational effects (i.e. the excitation of a large eccentricity followed by tidal circularization). This process essentially cleans out the inner solar system by scattering any rocky planets in the inner planetary system into the star or the outer regions of the planetary system.

Giant Planets Near Snow Lines

A second architecture involves giant planets with greater orbital periods, typically around 300 days to about four years. These systems contain several planets significantly larger than the Earth, but smaller than Neptune. They're packed tightly together, all orbiting closer to their star than the Earth is to our sun, and typically on nearly circular orbits.

Some of these planets may have formed farther out in the disk and migrated to their current location. And it may not be a coincidence that many of these planets reside near the water-snow line (the location in the protoplanetary disk where the solid surface density increases due to condensation of water ice).

"Because the snow line affects the formation of planetesimals, migration of giant planets

toward the snow line could be accommodated by a variety of migration models, including migration through a gaseous disk, migration via planetesimal scattering, or even via scattering of multiple planets or planetary cores," writes Ford in his paper.

Long-Period Giant Planets

Astronomers are also discovering giant planets with orbital distances ranging from a few AU to several AU. These systems contain about two to four giant planets orbiting their star with a distance comparable to that of Venus to our Sun, often with significantly elongated orbits.

These wide, eccentric orbits suggest that some of these planets have ejected others from the host planetary system. And in fact, studies have shown that this "planet scattering" effect can naturally produce a broad range of eccentric orbits observed by astronomers.

Another intriguing possibility is that planets in wide orbits formed around a star from a different solar system, eventually making their way to a new host star.

Super-Earths and Mini Neptunes

Some systems feature Neptune- and super-Earth mass objects at short orbital periods. These planets appear to be much more common than giant planets. Interestingly, most solar-type stars host a sub-Neptune size planet.

Short-Period Tightly Packed Inner Planetary Systems (STIPS)

But while mini-Neptunes may be extremely common, we're also learning that our galaxy is home to an abundance of systems with multiple planets. A typical system contains planets with relatively short orbits, ranging from about one to 100 days. These systems tend to be tightly packed, suggesting correlated orbital periods. The mass of most of these planets is dominated by rock, ice, or water, but not gas. Ford says these planets didn't accrete a rocky core before clearing the protoplanetary disk, and it's conceivable that their atmospheres are the result of outgassing (rather than accretion of gas from the disk).

Others

Ford also told me about two other types: A giant planet on a very slow and wide orbit much further from its host star than any of the planets in our solar system are from the Sun, and a giant planet orbiting around a binary star system.

Life On Fairly Odd Planets

Ford's work also carries implications to the search for alien life.

"The history of how planets formed can have a significant impact on their habitability," he says. "For example, most of Earth's original water may have been lost to space. In that case, much of Earth's present day water may have been acquired by collisions with asteroids and comets. The rate of those collisions depends on the locations and masses of other planets, in our solar system Jupiter's orbit is particularly important. Therefore, we don't just want to find individual planets. Instead, we want to characterize all the planets orbiting a star and combine our knowledge about each of them to piece together their story."

His paper thus proposes some interesting questions, such as, is it worth searching for signs of life on planets larger than the Earth and likely enshrouded in a dense atmosphere? And if so, what would we look for? Also, if we don't find any evidence of life, would that be a meaningful finding? Or would our search be so primitive that it's not really an interesting result?

Thankfully, we may be able to answer some of the questions in the coming years.

"You can expect that astronomers will searching for and find rocky planets orbiting bright and nearby stars," he says. "Those will be easier to study in more details. With ground-based direct imaging searches and the James Webb Space Telescope, we'll likely learn lots more about the atmospheres of Jupiter-size and Neptune-size planets."
http://io9.com/new-evidence-that-the...lar-1568764902

Cool find, and tons of great related stuff at the link

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Old 04-28-2014, 02:21 PM   #27
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Astronomers Have Discovered A Star That's As Cold As Ice

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A very strange object called WISE J085510.83-071442.5 lies just 7.2 light-years from the earth. Discovered by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), it is nominally one of those not-quite-planets-not-quite-stars known as a brown dwarf.

Because they are so much smaller and cooler than stars, brown dwarfs appear red and faint. But astronomer Kevin Luhman noticed that WISE J085510.83-071442.5 was very red and very faint...partly because it is small—perhaps only 2 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter—and partly because it is so cold. It's temperature, Luhman found, is only about 9° F (-13° C). That's well below the freezing point of water. In other words, the brown dwarf is literally ice cold. The fact that it is so cold is a clue to its age. If it started out at a few thousand degrees it would have taken somewhere between 1 and 10 billion years to have cooled to its present temperature.

It may well be that instead of being a brown dwarf, this object may in reality be one of the half dozen or so mysterious rogue planets, the first of which was first observed in 2010. These are worlds that, as the result of some catastrophe, were ejected from their home systems and now orbit the galaxy directly, as our sun does.

Luhman found that WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is moving in relation to the background of stars. Most stars do, but this one appeared to be really traveling. This speed combined with a measurement of the body's parallax (the amount by which it appeared to shift against the background stars as the earth moved from one side of its orbit to the other) enabled Luhman to figure its distance. WISE J085510.83-071442.5 turned out to be the 7th closest star to our own.



Observations of WISE J085510.83-071442.5 by the WISE and Spitzer telescopes reveal the rapid motion of the brown dwarf over the past four years. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Penn State]
http://io9.com/astronomers-have-disc...ice-1568183316

Well that's bizarre

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Old 04-30-2014, 11:04 AM   #28
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Unprecedented Images Show The "Dim Matter" That Connects All Galaxies



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Using the Cosmic Web Imager, astronomers from Caltech have captured the first three-dimensional images of the intergalactic medium (IGM) — the diffuse gas that connects galaxies throughout the universe.

Above: The Lyman alpha blob in emerging galaxy cluster showing gas filaments flowing into blob (as shown by arrows).

Astronomers have theorized about the presence of these filaments since the 1980s. Computer simulations have suggested that as the universe cooled after the Big Bang, most of its matter, including dark matter, congealed into a network of filaments that now span the cosmos. This primordial gas from the Big Bang shouldn't be spread uniformly throughout space, but rather through channels, or filaments, that extend across galaxies and flow between them. Earlier this year, astronomers were able to capture their first glimpse of this cosmic web using the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, which revealed a network of smaller and larger filaments zigzagging through intergalactic space.

Now, scientists from Caltech have used the Cosmic Web Imager (CWI) — a spectrographic imager that takes pictures at many different wavelengths simultaneously — to obtain their first three-dimensional images of the IGM. It's an opportunity for astronomers to get a better sense of the structure of these filaments, and to improve their understanding of galactic and intergalactic dynamics. And in fact, the CWI has already detected a possible spiral-galaxy-in-the-making that's about three times bigger than the Milky Way.



The CWI was developed by Caltech professor Christopher Martin. He describes the diffuse gas of the IGM as "dim matter" as a way to discern it from the bright matter of stars and galaxies, along with the dark matter and energy that comprises most of the universe.

"Not only does it comprise most of the normal matter in the universe, it is also the medium in which galaxies form and grow," he noted in a statement.



A quasar showing surrounding gas (in blue) and direction of filamentary gas inflow.

The CWI allowed the astronomers to visualize these filaments, while also allowing them to measure composition, mass, and velocity. The first cosmic filaments observed by the imager reside near two very bright objects, a quasar and a so-called Lyman alpha blob in an emerging galaxy cluster. These objects were chosen because they're bright, lighting up the surrounding IGM and boosting its detectable signal.

Observations revealed a narrow filament — about a million light-years long — flowing into the quasar, possibly even fueling the growth of the galaxy that hosts the quasar. They also detected three filaments surrounding the Lyman alpha blob, with a measured spin that shows that the gas from these filaments is flowing into the blob and affecting its dynamics. These objects both appeared about two billion years after the Big Bang, a time of rapid star formation in galaxies.

"In the case of the Lyman alpha blob," added Martin, "I think we're looking at a giant protogalactic disk. It's almost 300,000 light-years in diameter, three times the size of the Milky Way."
http://authors.library.caltech.edu/44109/

http://authors.library.caltech.edu/44105/

Well this is certainly big news, closer and closer to confirming dark matter

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Old 05-05-2014, 10:13 PM   #29
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Galactic Cannonball Heading Our Way

http://time.com/85722/milky-way-globular-cluster/

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Old 05-05-2014, 10:35 PM   #30
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

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Galactic Cannonball Heading Our Way

http://time.com/85722/milky-way-globular-cluster/
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One thing we needn’t worry about is whether the cluster—which appears to have us in its crosshairs—could cause us any harm. First of all, even at its current speed, it will take more than 17.5 million years to get here. And should its aim be true and it collide with the Milky Way, it would pass right through since galaxies and clusters are made of far more empty space than they are matter.
You're gonna have to try harder, Universe.

*Remembers that earth is passing through the Eta Aquarids tonight.*

I take it back and marvel at your magnificence, Universe. Carry on being awesome. Dont mind me.

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Old 05-06-2014, 07:07 AM   #31
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Venus and the Milky Way photographed at dawn:


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Old 05-06-2014, 11:39 AM   #32
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

This Is the Milky Way's Magnetic Fingerprint



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The swirls, loops and arches in this image may look like a new artwork—but they are in fact the results of the first ever all-sky observations of polarized light emitted by interstellar dust in the Milky Way, and they represent the galaxy's magnetic fingerprint.

Compiled from data acquired by the ESA's Planck satellite, the image maps the polarization of light from across the entire night sky. The European Space Agency explains why polarization—the phenomenon whereby electromagnetic fields vibrate preferentially in certain directions—is so useful:

In space, the light emitted by stars, gas and dust can also be polarised in various ways. By measuring the amount of polarisation in this light, astronomers can study the physical processes that caused the polarisation. In particular, polarisation may reveal the existence and properties of magnetic fields in the medium light has travelled through...

Even though the tiny dust grains are very cold, they do emit light but at very long wavelengths – from the infrared to the microwave domain. If the grains are not symmetrical, more of that light comes out vibrating parallel to the longest axis of the grain, making the light polarised.
In fact, it's the magnetic fields in the galaxy that cause spinning dust grains to become aligned preferentially with their long axis perpendicular to the direction of the magnetic field—which means this map of polarization is also a visualization of the magnetic fields in the Milky Way.
http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Sp..._of_our_Galaxy

Neat

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Old 05-06-2014, 11:44 AM   #33
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Space is pretty.

Usually only if you can see beyond our visual spectrum though.

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Old 05-06-2014, 01:12 PM   #34
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

regwec: what a gorgeous pic

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Old 05-07-2014, 02:09 PM   #35
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Flame nebula


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Old 05-08-2014, 01:42 PM   #36
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

A beautiful photo of Saturn taken last Monday



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Our friend Val Klavans sent us this beautiful image of Saturn in approximate true color, taken on May 5 by Cassini. This is how your eyes would see it if you were there looking down from a high angle, at approximately 1,837,403 miles (2,957,013 kilometers) away from the planet.

Val processed it from the images taken with Cassini's Imaging Science Subsystem, using the CB2 (Continuum band 2), BL1 (Blue band 1), MT3 (Methane band 3), MT2 (Methane Band 2), CL1 and CL2 (Clear 1 and 2) filters.
Awesome pic!

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Old 05-08-2014, 03:45 PM   #37
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Here is a neat little What-if piece.

What it would look like if the planets were as close as the moon.

http://io9.com/5929076/what-if-we-ha...tead-of-a-moon

http://twistedsifter.com/2013/05/if-...h-as-the-moon/


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Old 05-08-2014, 06:15 PM   #38
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Pretty old but still pretty awesome! Ever see the "what if the moon was a disco ball" video?

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Old 05-09-2014, 01:50 PM   #39
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

We've Finally Found Our Sun's Long-Lost Sister

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For the first time ever, astronomers have identified a star that emerged from the same cloud of dust and gas as our own. Intriguingly, there's a "small, but not zero" chance that our sister sun hosts planets hospitable to life.

For those of you who have been watching the rebooted Cosmos series, this announcement couldn't have been more timely. As Neil deGrasse Tyson just noted in a recent episode, our sun, along with others, formed in a massive cloud of dust and gas called a nebula. Consequently, it must have so-called "stellar siblings" floating around somewhere relatively near, but to date none have ever been found. Well, until now.

Chemical and Orbital Analysis

The star, HD 162826, was identified by Ivan Ramirez and his team at the University of Texas at Austin. It's located 110 light-years away in the constellation Hercules, is about 15% more massive than our sun, and is not visible to the naked eye.



Ramirez's team was able to match this star to our own by following up on 30 possible candidates. The astronomers used high-resolution spectroscopy to get a better understanding of the chemical make-up of these stars. In addition, they analyzed the orbits of these candidates, namely where they have been and where they are going in the paths around the center of the Milky Way.

Both the chemical analysis and orbital calculations narrowed the field of candidates to just one: HD 162826.

Life on Sibling Planets?

This particular star, which has been studied for the better part of 15 years, does not appear to have any massive planets orbiting close to it (so-called hot jupiters). Nor does a Jupiter-like planet reside at the farthest reaches of this solar system. But studies to date have not ruled out the presence of smaller terrestrial planets. According to Ramirez, there is a chance, "small, but not zero," that these solar sibling stars could host planets that harbor life.

What's more, he speculates that when these stars were forming in the birth cluster, collisions could have knocked chunks off of planets, and these fragments could have traveled between solar systems — possibly bringing primitive life to Earth.

"So it could be argued that solar siblings are key candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life," Ramirez noted in a release.
http://www.as.utexas.edu/~ivan/sun_siblings.pdf

Amazing they were able to find that

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Old 05-09-2014, 02:31 PM   #40
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

It has life alright. It's where all our evil twins live.

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Old 05-09-2014, 05:40 PM   #41
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

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It has life alright. It's where all our evil twins live.
Unless you're the evil one, and the good Teelie lives over there

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Old 05-09-2014, 05:51 PM   #42
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

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It has life alright. It's where all our evil twins live.
*shaves off goatee*

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Old 05-09-2014, 09:49 PM   #43
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

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A beautiful photo of Saturn taken last Monday





Awesome pic!
Agreed. That hexagon shape at the north pole makes my head hurt if I think about it too much.

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Old 05-14-2014, 08:04 AM   #44
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

A simulated video of the eventual future death of the Universe.

I plan to be........somewhere to witness this.

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Old 05-14-2014, 08:38 AM   #45
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

So word is Russia has taken it's ball and is going home with regards to the space station now.

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Russia said it does not plan to use the International Space Station beyond 2020, casting a shadow on U.S. plans to continue cooperation with the country and extend the life of the orbiting laboratory until at least 2024.

NASA released a statement saying that the U.S. space agency "has not received any official notification from the Government of Russia on any changes in our space cooperation at this point."

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Old 05-14-2014, 01:05 PM   #46
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

The US will find more willing and constructive collaborators than Russia as this century progresses.

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Old 05-15-2014, 02:46 PM   #47
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is mysteriously shrinking in a dramatic way



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Scientists have noticed something dramatic happening in the Solar System: Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot, the crimson monster storm that once was so large that it could eat three Earths, is mysteriously shrinking at high speed. Now it's only the width of one Earth. Would it disappear in a few decades?

According to the observations by the Hubble Space Telescope made in 1995, 2009 and 2015, the entire process happened in less than three decades. Scientists don't know why this is happening, according to NASA.

One theory is that "some unknown activity in the planet's atmosphere may be draining energy and weakening the storm, causing it to shrink."

1995



2009

2014



The Great Red Spot has been raging in Jupiter's southern hemisphere for hundreds of years—349 according to some estimations. Cassini talked about a permanent spot between 1665 and 1713.

Scientist don't know yet why this is happening or if the giant planet would loose its most striking characteristic. I guess that, at this shrinking rate, we will know in a few decades.

Also, just in case, let's not go to Europa. Maybe this is just a warning.
http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/arc...eases/2014/24/

How weird is that?

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Old 05-15-2014, 03:58 PM   #48
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

I blame global warming.

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Old 05-20-2014, 09:02 PM   #49
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

A Realtime Map Of The Meteoroids In Earth's Sky



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Curious about just how many meteoroids are streaking through the sky above you? Wonder no more with this realtime map generator that shows you exactly how to find them.

The generator is the work of NASA's delightfully-named ASGARD program and tracks an estimated 4,000-5,000 meteoroids a day in real time. The map above tracks their position in the sky, while this second map below looks at meteoroid speed.



You can generate your own set of maps over at the ASGARD site, by clicking over to the radar function.
http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/

I had no idea there are so many raining down on us daily

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Old 05-21-2014, 10:43 AM   #50
Bim
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Default Re: Space and Astronomy Megathread (MERGED) - Part 1

That's a whole lot of them!

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