Thursday, April 17, 2014

Infant Moon of Saturn

Summary: Hiding in the images of Saturn's outermost rings, a new moon is being formed. Or at least it looks like it might be a new moon. It's only a slight bump in the images but it does give hints of being a new moon. It's not inconceivable either. The rings are made up of many particles of ice and rock which can start to clump and form a new moon. While it has not been officially confirmed as the start of a new moon yet, the object has been nicknamed Peggy.

Astronomers hope that Cassini's final orbit in 2016 will be able to get higher quality images to verify if it is indeed the beginnings of a new moon. If so, we then just have to cross our fingers to see if it will survive it's infancy. If it stays within the rings, it will have a constant barrage or rocks that could break it apart while it is still forming. If it moves out beyond the rings, Peggy will have to dodge the larger moons.

Even if it does not end up becoming a fully fledged moon, it is still a great opportunity to observe the creation of a new celestial object.

BBC News

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Two New Discoveries in the Solar System

There's not too much to say about these. The first one is an asteroid that has been discovered to have it's own rings. This is the first asteroid we have found that has its own ring system.

BBC News
Nature


The second one is a new dwarf planet that has been discovered outside of Pluto's orbit. There's two main theories on its formation, but it has still yet to be officially confirmed.

BBC News
Nature

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cosmic Waves of Discovery

Summary: Scientists at the BICEP2 collaboration at the South Pole have detected signal that confirm theories of the rapid expansion of the universe immediately after the big bang. If validated by other experiments (which is likely to happen as the signal found is actually stronger than predicted) this confirms a super-rapid expansion within the first instants of the universe before "slowing down" to rapid expansion. What they found were twists in Cosmic Radiation Background that could have only been produced by gravitational waves.

So what does this mean? These signals tell astronomers that gravity was present during this time in which quantum effects dominated the, then very tiny, universe. This gives us greater hope that the Four Fundamental Forces can be one day combined into a unified Theory of Everything which could better describe conditions at the big bang.


BBC News
Minute Physics video explaining the discovery
Discussion on background and implications
Video of the founding scientists hearing the news
SciShow

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Gaia Telescope Image

Summary: The telescope Gaia has released its first test image of a star cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This is only a test image though, Gaia's real job is to track and characterize points of light moving across its big detector. These points of light could be anything from a star, an asteroid, or even flashes of light caused by explosions such as supernovae. The test image simply verified that all the electronics are working and communicating with each other properly.

Gaia will be making a 3D map of a small area of the sky over five years. Ideally, at the end of the mission, it will know the coordinates of the brightest stars to within an error of seven micro-arcseconds. This angle is the same angle as viewing a small coin like a euro on the surface of the moon from earth; incredibly small! Currently, the best precision is to within 1%, and as astronomers try to measure stars farther away, this error will become more noticeable. Gaia will double check our current methods of measurement and help limit the amount of error when measuring other stars. This means that our future measurements can be more accurate and we will be able to, hopefully, have a more accurate estimate of how fast our universe is expanding.


BBC News

Monday, February 3, 2014

BOSS Data

Summary: The BOSS (Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey) collaboration has released a new report with record precision of 1% and a more accurate measure of w, Dark Energy's pressure to density ratio. If this number is simply Einstein's cosmological constant, then w=-1. The new data seems to provide solid proof for this theory as their results yielded w= -1.03±0.06.

The overall purpose of the collaboration is to more precisely determine the redshift of galaxies so that astronomers can connect this measurement with other measurements of cosmological distance. This correlation can then be applied to galaxies that are too far to measure distance by anything other than redshift.


Physics Today

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chasing Our Dreams

Summary: The replacement for the shuttles, now has a predicted launch date. The Dream Chaser, looking like a mini space shuttle, will liftoff on top of an Atlas V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on November 1st, 2016. The first mission will be an unmanned flight although the space craft is designed to carry seven astronauts into low-Earth orbit. This is one of three models being developed for future space travel and although it may not continue to be funded by NASA, the company says they will continue developing their design. Personally, I am excited and think it will do well, but I wish they were more creative in their design. It does look almost exactly like a mini shuttle.


BBC News

No Black Holes?

Summary: In an article I cannot quite wrap my head around, Stephen Hawking has now proposed that the black holes we know (well, sorta know) and love, don't actually exist. I don't really understand the article but it seems to me that he is proposing a different definition of black holes. That they still exist, but just need to be defined differently. If anyone can summarize the article better, please leave a summary in the comments.


Nature