Astronomy news

Comet Rendevous

NASAs Stardust NExT spacecraft is nearing a rendevous with Comet Tempel on February 14th (see http://stardustnext.jpl.nasa.gov/ ). The mission is designed to look for changes on the surface of the comet following its recent orbit around the Sun - what effects did coming close to the Sun have on the comet? It will image composition, distribution and flux of dust emitted into the coma and material surrounding the comet nucleus.

Worlds in Near Collision

At www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/weekinreview/16chang.html?ref=kennethchang there is a story sent in by member Gary Gilligan. It begins with the theme of plate tectonics and earthquakes and proceeds to the solar system and planetary astronomy. Apparently, it is now thought the solar system is not a constant but has changed - over time.

Ice Ages - some speculation

At www.sciencebits.com/ice-ages there is an article by Nir Shaviv, a youngish scientist, if his picture is up to date, that has been making waves the past few years. He sees a connection between solar activity and the terrestrial climate as the solar wind varies in strength and effects the amount of cosmic rays reaching earth from outside the solar system.

Holes in the Sun

At www.physorg.com/print214040011.html there is an image of the Sun taken on January 10th in extreme ultra-violet light that captures a dark covered hole (below). Coronal holes are areas on the surface of the Sun associated with open magnetic field lines  that head out into space. They are the beginnings of the solar wind.

Black Holes, the Big Bear and Planck

NASA, at www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-010&cid=release_2011-010 are saying the Planck Mission has mapped thousands of dusty coccoons where it is thought stars are forming as well as some huge clusters of galaxies. Planck, a European ESA project with contributions by NASA has the aim of detecting light left over from the Big Bang - or what lies between us and the cosmic microwave background.

Flares in the Crab Nebula

At www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-fermi-large-area-telescope-flares.html - the Fermi Large Area Telescope has detected two gamma-ray pulses coming from the Crab Nebula, fueled by more energetic particles. This has led some researchers to rethink how cosmic particles might accelerate. The comments at the end of the article are interesting - suggesting plasma may hold the key. The same story is also at www.dailygalaxy.com January 7th ...

Sun Spots - update and history

At http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/09/say-goodbye-to-sunspots.html ... it is recognised that sun spot activity has declined - at the moment, in early January. The surface of the Sun is clear - or nearly so. Sun spots are thought to be upwellings of the Sun's magnetic field which traps ionised plasma - or electrically charged superheated gas, at the surface. The Sun also has an 11 year cycle during which it peaks (lots of sun spots) and declines (known as the solar minimum).

NASA puzzled by Sun activity

There is a lovely post at WattsUpWithThat today that I will write up tomorrow and add to this post - but looking at www.suite101.com/content/vast-solar-eruption-shocks-nasa-and-raises-doubts-on-sun-theory-a327330 John O'Sullivan claims NASA is puzzled by activity on the Sun during the summer of last year, 2010. It seems we have another theory on how the Sun might work and how it might impact on climate here on earth.

Massive Comet Break-up and NASA on Solar Max

The ESA and NASA mission SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) has found its 2000th comet (see www.physorg.com/print212806556.html). SOHO was designed to monitor the Sun and was launched as long ago as 1995. It is the dozens of amateur astronomers that daily pore over the fuzzy lights moving across the images produced by the camera onboard the satellite that has actually found the comets. At the moment there are around 70 people from 18 different countries taking part.