Category Archives: Astronomy

Crowd-Sourcing Science

Twenty-nine gravitational lens candidates found through Space Warps (Space Warps, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey)

Twenty-nine gravitational lens candidates found through Space Warps
(Space Warps, Canada-France-Hawaii
Telescope Legacy Survey)

It’s called Space Warps and the program just helped an international science team to identify 29 new gravitational lense candidates with the help of interested amateurs. Around 37,000 interested amateurs examined 430,000 images to help professional astronomers focus their investigation. In the process, Space Warps illustrated a growing effort to involve citizen scientists in cutting-edge investigations.

Big searches, big data
The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey (CFHTLS) employed an optical imaging camera in a wide field sky survey over a five-year period. The survey accumulated a huge number of images during more than 2300 hours of observation, and then made the data set available for investigators.

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Cave Camera – New Technology May Image Beneath the Moon’s Surface

(NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

(NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Almost all current lunar exploration relies on imaging by telescope and satellite.  Some of the moon’s most intriguing features, however, may be under its surface. How do you explore deeper when your only tool is remote imaging? You invent a technology that peeks around the edges of lunar craters to glimpse what lies underneath. That technology is coming to NASA.

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Massive Measurement – Calculating the Size of Supermassive Black Holes

NGC 1097 observed in optical  light (ESO/R. Gendler)

NGC 1097 observed in optical light
(ESO/R. Gendler)

Astronomers recently measured the mass of a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy located approximately 45 million light-years away.

They used a new technique and one of the highest observatories in the world – the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). In the process, they expanded the set of tools needed to understand how black holes influence galaxy formation.

The heart of a galaxy
Supermassive black holes are gargantuan – millions of times the mass of the Sun. Astronomers now believe that there’s a supermassive black hole at the center of every large galaxy. Some studies have found that their mass is correlated to the mass and to the orbital speeds of the galaxies that surround them.

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Magnetosphere Movies – Imaging Plasma Structures in 3D

Artist's impression of tubular plasma structures (CAASTRO/Mats Bjorkland)

Artist’s impression of tubular plasma structures (CAASTRO/Mats Bjorkland)

“First ever” astronomy discoveries can come from new instruments, like the James Webb Space Telescope or the European Extremely Large Telescope (both still under construction).

They can also come from novel uses of existing instruments.

A team of astronomers has recently detected the existence oftubular plasma structures in Earth’s magnetosphere. And, through clever use of a radio telescope, they imaged these tube structures in 3D, verifying a 60-year-old theory.

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Magic Mountain – The Engineering of Palomar Observatory

Hale Telescope (Caltech)

Hale Telescope (Caltech)

Time spent around the physical artifacts of discovery – laboratories, museum displays, university offices – can provoke questions about how advances are really made: Who is most responsible for new scientific knowledge?  And who gets the credit?  Is the breakthrough in the mind or in the tool that made it possible?

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Awash in Worlds – The Growing Count of Exoplanets

(NASA)

(NASA)

Astronomy passed a milestone last month(October 2013) when the tally of known exoplanets passed the 1,000 mark. In fact, science has found 1,028 confirmed planets in 782 planetary systems to date, including 170 multiple planetary systems. That’s a lot of progress, considering that the first extrasolar planet was confirmed in only 1992.

While we may wonder at everything the universe holds – stars, nebulae, dark matter – our lives are spent on the surface of a planet. Looking for planets, therefore, is unique in astronomy because each announced discovery comes tagged with the unvoiced question: is this the one with life? We haven’t found life beyond Earth yet. We can’t be sure that it exists or what it might be like. But we have moved into a universe that’s much more interesting and diverse than anyone knew just a few decades ago.

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