How the universe works: Clockwork and Creation (video)

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The Extinction Protocol, 7/31/13

Scientists have discovered that our solar system is very unique. Earth is located in a star system that is by no means the norm in space. As a matter of fact, our solar system appears to be the exception. A stunning exception, in the way it’s laid out to actually foster the very conditions on Earth which makes life possible. In the universe at large, chaos, explosions, and mind-bending collisions between massive celestial bodies appear to be commonplace. After you watch this video, you may never see our little blue planet quite the same again.

Snow in an Infant Solar System: A Frosty Landmark for Planet and Comet Formation

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Science News, 7/18/13

July 18, 2013 — A snow line has been imaged in a far-off infant solar system for the very first time. The snow line, located in the disc around the Sun-like star TW Hydrae, promises to tell us more about the formation of planets and comets, the factors that decide their composition, and the history of the Solar System.

The results are published today in Science Express.

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array have taken the first ever image of the snow line in an infant solar system. On Earth, snow lines form at high altitudes where falling temperatures turn the moisture in the air into snow. This line is clearly visible on a mountain, where the snow-capped summit ends and the rocky face begins.

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Earth’s Gold Came From Colliding Stars

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Universe Today, 7/18/13, Jason Major

Collisions of neutron stars produce powerful gamma-ray bursts – and heavy elements like gold (Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.)

Collisions of neutron stars produce powerful gamma-ray bursts – and heavy elements like gold (Image credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.)

Recent research by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts has revealed that considerable amounts of gold — along with other heavy elements — are produced during impacts between neutron stars, the super-dense remains of stars originally 1.4 to 9 times the mass of our Sun.

The team’s investigation of a short-duration gamma-ray outburst that occurred in June (GRB 130603B) showed a surprising residual near-infrared glow, possibly from a cloud of material created during the stellar merger. This cloud is thought to contain a considerable amount of freshly-minted heavy elements, including gold.

Where it rains glass - Hubble finds a bizarre blue exoplanet

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The Watchers, 7/12/13, Adonai

Astronomers at NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have, for the first time, identified a true color of planed out of our Solar System. The planet is 63 light-years away and is boringly named HD 189733b but it is rather interesting, bizarre and exotic. It is also the closest exoplanet that can be seen crossing the face of its star.  

It has been intensively studied by Hubble and other telescopes, and its atmosphere has been found to be dramatically changeable and exotic, with hazes and violent flares.

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NASA’s IBEX Provides First View Of the Solar System’s Tail

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Nasa, 7/11/13

It has long been assumed that our solar system, like a comet, has a tail. Just as any object moving through another medium – for example, a meteor traveling through Earth’s atmosphere – causes the particles to form a stream trailing off behind it. But the tail of our solar bubble, called the heliosphere, has never actually been observed, until now.

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, has mapped the boundaries of the tail of the heliosphere, something that has never before been possible. Scientists describe this tail, called the heliotail, in detail in a paper published on July 10, 2013, in The Astrophysical Journal. By combining observations from the first three years of IBEX imagery, the team mapped out a tail that shows a combination of fast and slow moving particles. There are two lobes of slower particles on the sides, faster particles above and below, with the entire structure twisted, as it experiences the pushing and pulling of magnetic fields outside the solar system.

Eyes on the Sky: July 8 thru July 14

Desert Gypsy's picture, 7/7/13

Published on Jul 7, 2013 With shorter nights and longer days, what better time to see the closest star to Earth than during summer!? Visual solar filters are not very expensive, and because there is plenty of light (with a filter!), telescopes as small 50mm or 60mm are just fine for solar observing. Find out what to see (and what you can see on the Sun this week!) and look for whenever you do solar observing, and also learn about specialized filters for viewing solar flares and prominences. See what's up in the sky every week with "Eyes on the Sky" videos, astronomy made easy.


60 Billion Alien Planets Could Support Life, Study Suggests

Desert Gypsy's picture - 7/8/13

Though only about dozen potentially habitable exoplanets have been detected so far, scientists say the universe should be teeming with alien worlds that could support life. The Milky Way alone may host 60 billion such planets around faint red dwarf stars, a new estimate suggests.


Based on data from NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, scientists have predicted that there should be one Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of each red dwarf, the most common type of star. But a group of researchers has now doubled that estimate after considering how cloud cover might help an alien planet support life.

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Milky Way crashed into Andromeda 10 billion years ago?

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Did Andromeda crash into the Milky Way 10 billion years ago?

Our Milky Way smashed into its neighbouring Andromeda galaxy around 10 billion years ago, European astronomers suggest.

Previous studies have suggested that our galaxy is set to crash into Andromeda in 3-4 billion years, and that this will be the first time such a collision has taken place.

However, now a European team of astronomers led by Hongsheng Zhao of the University of St Andrews propose that the two star systems collided some 10 billion years ago and that our understanding of gravity is fundamentally wrong.

This would neatly explain the observed structure of the two galaxies and their satellites, something that has been difficult to account for until now, researchers said.

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Sunrays before sunrise or after sunset

Desert Gypsy's picture, 7/4/13

Before sunrise or after sunset, you might be gazing skyward and notice that there are beams of light that appear to be shooting out from horizon, or down from the clouds. These are crepuscular rays, sometimes called sunrays. They are beautiful, mysterious and very noticeable.

Crepuscular rays are columns of sunlit air, streaming through gaps in clouds or other objects (for example, mountain peaks). Darker cloud-shadowed regions lie between the sunlit columns. These rays are really parallel to each other. But they appear to diverge, much as a road that looks narrow in the distance appears wide beneath your feet.

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Star of the week: Antares is Heart of the Scorpion

Desert Gypsy's picture - 7/2/13

Antares and M4 image by

On summer evenings, you can spot red Antares, the ruby Heart of Scorpius the Scorpion. It is the 16th brightest star and one of the most gigantic stars known.

Bright reddish Antares – also known as Alpha Scorpii – is easy to spot on a summer night. It is the brightest star – and distinctly reddish in color – in the fishhook-shaped pattern of stars known as the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion.

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