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The Last Month in Astronomy


MAY-11-2010 • Black Hole Leaving • An undergraduate student from the Netherlands has found evidence of a black hole that is moving out of its parent galaxy. Marianne Heida found the supermassive black hole using data from the Chandra X-ray observatory. As gas and dust falls in the black hole it heats up and emits radiation at the high frequencies of X-rays. X-rays also penetrate the other material that is being sucked into black hole which is why black holes appear as nearly pure X-ray emitters. While supermassive black holes (around 1 billion solar masses) are most likely found in galaxy centers, this black hole is being expelled at a high speed. This might be caused by two black holes merging. Computer simulations suggest that the larger resulting black hole will be shot out though it is dependent on starting conditions such as the relative direction and speed of the progenitors. The picture shown here is from Hubble and does not use X-ray data.

MAY-11-2010 • A Hole in Space • The ESA’s Herschel spacecraft has found something surprising, a hole in space. Seeing black patches in the sky is nothing new. We know that these areas are dark clouds that are blocking light. Herschel looked at one such patch and found that is was quite dark. But Herschel looks in the infrared which usually finds some radiation from these objects. There are 3 possible explanations: the instruments aren’t working (nope, working fine); the cloud is very cold and dense (no, other earth-based instruments can’t find anything either); or the cloud is a hole, not a cloud. Says Tom Megeath of the University of Toledo “No one has ever seen a hole like this. It’s as surprising as knowing you have worms tunneling under your lawn, but finding one morning that they have created a huge, yawning pit.” This hole may have been created by the stellar jets created by stars in NGC 1999. The hole gives us a view into how stars disperse their stellar nursery environment.

APR-28-2010 • Life Components Found On Asteroid • “For a long time the thinking was that you couldn’t find a cup’s worth of water in the entire asteroid belt. Today we know you not only could quench your thirst, but you might just be able to fill up every pool on Earth.” So said Don Yeomans of JPL. He was talking about the results of 6 years of measurements of asteroid 24 Themis. These measurements were done by Andrew Rivkin and Joshua Emery using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. There, buried in the data, is the signature of both water ice and organic materials.

APR-21-2010 • One planet, Hold the Methane • NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered something strange about the planet GJ 436b. This planet is about the size of Neptune making it the smallest exoplanet to have its atmosphere tested. Methane was expected but it hasn’t been found. The planet should have everything needed to cook up some of the gas: About 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, atmosphere with hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Joseph Harrington of the University of Central Florida says “We are scratching our heads”.


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