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The Last Month in Astronomy

Barnard’s Galaxy
Credit: ESO


NOV-09-2009 • Hayabusa bruised • The Japanese asteroid mission is having problems with its Ion engines. Three of the four engines have failed. Thruster C was shut down earlier because it looked like it might be damaged also. Now, that engine will have to fire up to bring the spacecraft to a landing in the Australian desert by June 2010. The engines have logged nearly 40,000 hours of burn time since the probe was launched in 2003. If successful, samples of asteroid Itokawa are onboard the spacecraft.

NOV-06-2009 • Rapid Supernova • A 7 year old supernova may be a new class of exploding star. SN2002bj is the fastest evolving supernova seen thus far. The supernova disappeared in 20 days, probably 3 times faster than other supernovae. But it isn’t just the speed that was different. The element vanadium was seen for the first time in a supernova spectrum. “We think this may well be a new physical explosion mechanism, not just a minor variation of ones already known” according to Alex Filippenko, one of the co-authors.

NOV-05-2009 • Neutron Star has Atmosphere • An atmosphere has been found around a neutron star in the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. The atmosphere is made out of carbon. The intense gravity at the surface of a neutron star, 10 times the pressure at the center of the Earth, compresses this atmosphere to a depth of about 4 inches. The result is that the carbon is as dense as it is in a diamond.

OCT-22-2009 • Most Distant Galaxy Cluster • The record for the most distant galaxy cluster yet observed has been broken. The new record holder has a lookback distance of 10.2 billion light years. This means we are seeing this cluster at a time when the universe was only one-fourth its current age. The object is known as JKCS041. The actual observation date is November 23, 2007. The redshift (z) value is 1.9. The observation includes data from Chandra as well as the VLT. The cluster was originally detected by the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in 2006.

OCT-19-2009 • 32 New Exoplanets • The ESO spectrograph known as HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) has found a total of 32 new exoplanets. HARPS has now found 75 of the just over 400 exoplanets discovered thus far. Many of these planets have a relatively small mass. Many of these are in multi-planet systems. “By targeting M dwarfs and harnessing the precision of HARPS we have been able to search for exoplanets in the mass and temperature regime of super-Earths, some even close to or inside the habitable zone around the star,” according to Xavier Bonfils, one of the paper’s co-authors.

OCT-14-2009 • Image of Barnard’s Galaxy • NGC6822, a galactic neighbor known as Barnard’s galaxy, has recently been imaged as shown in a new photo. The image was taken by the 2.2 meter scope at ESO’s La Silla observatory in northern Chile. See the image on this page.

OCT-05-2009 • Herschel finds necklace • The ESA Herschel telescope discovered a “cosmic pearl necklace” in the area of the Southern Cross. The Herschel telescope is part of an infrared galactic-plane survey that found this formation which shows stars in nearly all phases of stellar evolution.


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