Bright Spots on Ceres Return to View

animated sequence of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows northern terrain on the sunlit side of dwarf planet Ceres.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

animated sequence of images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows northern terrain on the sunlit side of dwarf planet Ceres.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

As NASA’s Dawn orbiter approached the Ceres in late February, it released tantalizing images of a pair of bright spots on the floor of a big crater of the dwarf planet. But after the craft began orbiting Ceres on March 6, 2015, the newsfeed went silent. Conspiracy theories started brewing, naturally, about how the government was keeping secret the discovery of (fill in the blank) on Ceres. It turns out the spacecraft was just settling in and was mostly over the dark side of the dwarf planet. Now NASA has released two new images of Ceres, including the still mysterious bright spots, taken from Dawn on April 14 and 15 from 14,000 miles above Ceres’ north pole.

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A Surprising Alignment of Quasars Across the Universe

Artist’s impression of mysterious alignment of quasar rotation

Artist’s conception of the alignment of quasars over the vast filaments that are home to galaxy clusters spread across billions of light years (credit: European Southern Observatory)

In a remarkable discovery, astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have discovered that quasars separated by billions of light years are aligned parallel to each other, as if they were under the influence of an unseen mechanism that gets them pointing in the same direction. This mechanism seems to be related to the largest-scale structures in the universe, the vast filaments of galaxy clusters that form around voids and bubbles were very few galaxies are found.

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Red Barns and the Physics of Dying Stars

The pigment in red paint is made from plentiful elements cooked inside dying stars (image credit: Ian Britton)

The pigment in red paint is made from plentiful elements cooked inside massive dying stars (image credit: Ian Britton)

Why are so many barns painted red? The answer to this seemingly simple question goes deep into the physics of massive stars at the end of their lives. In 2013, a Google employee named Yonatan Zunger posted a long explanation on his Google+ page.  Summarized here, Zunger explains that barns are painted red because red paint is cheap. And red paint is cheap because its made of Fe2O3 (red ochre) composed of iron and oxygen. And iron and oxygen are cheap because they are plentiful on Earth because they formed readily in the innards of massive stars when the end their lives as supernovae explosions.

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A Short Video of the ALMA Observatory

“The View From Mars: Part One: ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre Array)” by Jonathan de Villiers – NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

There’s plenty of good science going on under the bone-dry skies of northern Chile in the Atacama Desert. In this poetic short video, Jonathan de Villiers takes a look at ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, perhaps the greatest and most promising telescope on Earth. Decades in the making, this immense and ambitious telescope has finally come online in the past couple of years, and it already has a handful of startling images and discoveries to its credit.

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New Stars, Ancient Earth

Orion over Killbear Provincial Park (credit: Wesley Liikane)

Orion over Killbear Provincial Park (credit: Wesley Liikane)

We think of the stars as immensely old, and in comparison to the brief span of our transient lives, they are. But many of the brightest stars we see in the night sky are young, far younger than the Earth and younger than many of the common rocks in your backyard. In this arresting image by the Canadian astrophotographer Wesley Liikane, for example, you see the oldest rocks on Earth contrasted with some of the youngest stars in the night sky.

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