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Trumpler 14 in the Carina Nebula

The young star cluster Trumpler 14 is revealed in another stunning ESO image. The amount of exquisite detail seen in this portrait, which beautifully reveals the life of a large family of stars, is due to the Multi-conjugate Adaptive optics Demonstrator (MAD) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Never before has such a large patch of sky been imaged using adaptive optics, a technique by which astronomers are able to remove most of the atmosphere’s blurring effects.

Noted for harbouring Eta Carinae — one of the wildest and most massive stars in our galaxy — the impressive Carina Nebula also houses a handful of massive clusters of young stars. The youngest of these stellar families is the Trumpler 14 star cluster, which is less than one million years old — a blink of an eye in the Universe’s history. This large open cluster is located some 8000 light-years away towards the constellation of Carina (the Keel).

A team of astronomers, led by Hugues Sana, acquired astounding images of the central part of Trumpler 14 using the Multi-conjugate Adaptive optics Demonstrator (MAD, [2]) mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Thanks to MAD, astronomers were able to remove most of the blurring effects of the atmosphere and thus obtain very sharp images. MAD performs this correction over a much larger patch of the sky than any other current adaptive optics instrument, allowing astronomers to make wider, crystal-clear images.


This image of the Carina Nebula shows the position of the Trumpler 14 cluster of stars.

Thanks to the high quality of the MAD images, the team of astronomers could obtain a very nice family portrait. They found that Trumpler 14 is not only the youngest — with a refined, newly estimated age of just 500 000 years — but also one of the most populous star clusters within the nebula. The astronomers counted about 2000 stars in their image, spanning the whole range from less than one tenth up to a factor of several tens of times the mass of our own Sun. And this in a region which is only about six light-years across, that is, less than twice the distance between the Sun and its closest stellar neighbour!

The most prominent star is the supergiant HD 93129A, one of the most luminous stars in the Galaxy. This titan has an estimated mass of about 80 times that of the Sun and is approximately two and a half million times brighter! It makes a stellar couple — a binary star — with another bright, massive star. The astronomers found that massive stars tend to pair up more often than less massive stars, and preferably with other more massive stars.

The Trumpler 14 cluster is undoubtedly a remarkable sight to observe: this dazzling patch of sky contains several white-blue, hot, massive stars, whose fierce ultraviolet light and stellar winds are blazing and heating up the surrounding dust and gas. Such massive stars rapidly burn their vast hydrogen supplies — the more massive the star, the shorter its lifespan. These giants will end their brief lives dramatically in convulsive explosions called supernovae, just a few million years from now.

A few orange stars are apparently scattered through Trumpler 14, in charming contrast to their bluish neighbours. These orange stars are in fact stars located behind Trumpler 14. Their reddened colour is due to absorption of blue light in the vast veils of dust and gas in the cloud.

The technology used in MAD to correct for the effect of the Earth’s atmosphere over large areas of sky will play a crucial role in the success of the next generation European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

[SOURCE:European Southern Observatory]

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer Ready for Launch Dec. 9

The launch of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9.

Liftoff will be from NASA’s Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch window is approximately 14 minutes in duration, extending from 6:09:33 to 6:23:51 a.m. PST (9:09:33 to 9:23:51 a.m. EST). The spacecraft’s final circular polar orbit will be 326 miles (525 kilometers), orbiting the earth 15 times a day.

WISE will scan the entire sky in infrared light with sensitivity hundreds of times greater than ever before possible, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images. The mission will uncover objects never seen, including the coolest stars, the universe’s most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets.

The voluminous quantity of images WISE can generate will help scientists answer fundamental questions about the origins of planets, stars and galaxies, and provide data for astronomers for decades to come. During the nine-month survey mission, snapshots can be taken as frequently as every 11 seconds.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, Pasadena, Calif., manages WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission’s principal investigator, Edward “Ned” Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA’s Explorers Program, managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.

Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena which manages JPL for NASA. The launch is the responsibility of NASA’s Launch Services Program, headquartered at the Kennedy Space Center. The Delta II launch service is being provided to Kennedy by United Launch Alliance, Denver, Colo.

[SOURCE:NASA]

A Really Old Eye In The Sky

A Cosmic Eye has given scientists a unique insight into galaxy formation in the very early Universe. Using gravity from a foreground galaxy as a zoom lens the team was able to see a young star-forming galaxy in the distant Universe as it appeared only two billion years after the Big Bang.


[SOURCE: PhysOrg]

Boom, there it goes!

Space shuttle Atlantis breaking the sound barrier in an earlier flight. Nice huh?

Pop quiz: Who was the first pilot to go faster than sound in either level flight or ascent? The answer at this Wikipedia Link.

Good beginner telescopes

A Dobsonian telescope is basically a big tube, a single lightweight main mirror at the bottom and a smaller mirror near the top tilted 45 degrees sideways to reflect the converging light beam out the eye piect on the side. This back and forth light beam system is also known as a Newtonian reflection system, named after you know who. It typically sits on a mounting system called Alt-Azimuth. This system allows for two-dimensional movements, vertically (ALTitude) and horisontally (Azimuth). Joe Dobson was an astronomer in San Francisco in the 70s, wanting to create a good but cheap telescope for the masses.

Today, there are several manufacturers that deliver Dobsonian telescopes. They’re good value for money, easy to use and will keep any budding astronomer occupied from beginner to intermediate. The main drawback is the size. Think 6-12″ tube up to chest height. However, it’s very light weight and easy to carry with you. There is generally some assembly required the first time, but that’s all part of the learning.

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Rings in sunshine

No, not the Olympic Rings, the real rings this time. Saturns rings.

Saturn’s icy rings shine in scattered sunlight in this view, which looks toward the unilluminated northern side of the rings from about 15 degrees above the ringplane. Some of the sunlight not reflected from the rings’ southern face is scattered through the countless particles, setting the rings aglow.

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Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. Bright clumps of material in the narrow F ring moved in their orbits between each of the color exposures, creating a chromatic misalignment in several places that provides some sense of the continuous motion within the ring system.

The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 4, 2008 at a distance of approximately 1.2 million kilometers (770,000 miles) from Saturn. The Sun-ring-spacecraft, or phase, angle was 28 degrees. Image scale is 70 kilometers (44 miles) per pixel.

[Source: NASA]

Great views of jupiter!

Boston.com just posted a series of pictures of jupiter and its moons, awesome! Below you see Io with the volcano Tvashtar shooting out a 300 kilometer high plume. Hit the image for the rest of the pictures.

[SOURCE: boston.com]

Where in the world is Voyager 1

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, and they were ment to explore Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 1 left our solar system in 2004, followed by Voyager 2 in 2007. The scale here is quite difficult to grasp, but imagine that you have the sun on the left side of your screen and the earth on the right side. Voyager 1 would be some 90 feet to the right of your monitor. And still going…

12 billion year old star factory

Telescopes looking back in time to more than 12 billion years ago have spotted a star factory — a galaxy producing so many new stars that they have nicknamed it the “baby boom” galaxy.

The remote galaxy is — or was — pumping out stars at a rate of up to 4,000 per year. In comparison, our own Milky Way galaxy gives birth to an average of just 10 stars per year, they reported on Wednesday.

The galaxy is 12.3 billion light-years away. The universe is 13.4 billion years old, so the galaxy was pumping out stars when the universe was 1.3 billion years old.

[SOURCE: reuters.com]