Astronomy news

Solar Sail

At http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/24jan_solarsail/ there is a picture of the solar sail. NASAs Nano Sail-D satellite has unfurled a gleaming sheet of space age fabric 650 km above the earth. The idea is to clear up near space.

Sun spots might be livening up

The Sun is coming alive once again as a huge sun spot region is developing lots of dots and signs of activity. According to a NASA spokesman it is a jumble of magnetic polarities, one of the conditions for magnetic reconnection and solar flares. The Solar Influences Data Centre in Belgium issues a daily bulletin on the Sun, hence the hype over what is really a rash of small dots rather than a genuine sun spot.

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).