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The Last Month in Astronomy


16-AUG-2010 •Gamma Rays from a Nova• Gamma-Ray Bursts were thought to require very large stellar explosions, supernovae. But NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope has found the high-energy radiation coming from a nova. The story starts when amateur astronomers in Japan detected a sharp brightening of a star in Cygnus.They had imaged this star, V407 Cyg, just 3 days earlier. They alerted astronomers around the world. Three other amateurs in Japan each independently reported the same thing. V407 Cyg is 9,000 light-years away. It is a binary consisting of a white dwarf and a red giant that is 500 times the size of the sun. Supernovae can trap and accelerate particles because of magnetic fields created in supernovae but it was thought that novae could not do the same thing.

13-AUG-2010 •Einstein Works• A new radio pulsar has been found in data from the Arecibo Observatory. Millions of people have used SETI@Home in the hope of finding signals from an extraterrestrial intelligence. A similar program is called Einstein@Home and the first discovery made by that program has been announced. The credited discovers are a couple from Iowa and someone from Germany. The new pulsar is PSR J2007+2722. It is a neutron star that rotates 42 times a second. It is 17,000 light years away in the constellation Vulpecula. It is unusual in that a pulsar of that rotational speed tends to have a companion and this one has apparently lost it.

11-AUG-2010 •UV rings around old galaxies• Astronomers have detected loops of ultraviolet light in old, massive galaxies. These galaxies have received an infusion of fresh gas which is creating new stars. This is unusual because it was thought that galaxies eventually age and become quiet.

10-AUG-2010 •New image of Antennae galaxies• NASA has released a new image of the Antennae galaxies. It is a composite formed from images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope. The Antennae galaxies are 62 million light-years from Earth. The collision of the galaxies started 100 million years ago and started a lot of star creation. Photo credits: Chandra: NASA/CXC/SAO; Spitzer: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Hubble: NASA/STScI

01-AUG-2010 •Sun Wakes Up• The sun has started becoming more active. The first of two coronal mass emissions was spotted on August 1.

29-JUL-2010 •Dunes of Titan• The Huygens lander indicated that surface winds were generally east-to-west. But the Cassini spacecraft images of dunes on Titan suggested that winds must be from west-to-east. A new paper suggests a solution. Seasonal changes produce gusts from the west and these gusts do a better job of moving sand than the usual winds from the east.

22-JUL-2010 •Buckyballs Found• Buckyballs are arrangements of 60 carbon atoms in a three dimensional structure similar to the geodesic domes designed by Buckminster Fuller. These have now been detected by the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. They were found in a planetary nebula named Tc 1. Jan Carni of the SETI Institute said “We did not plan for this discovery. But when we saw these whopping spectral signatures, we knew immediately that we were looking at one of the most sought-after molecules.”

12-JUL-2010 •Juno Has Shields Up• The NASA Juno spacecraft is set to launch a year from now. It will go into orbit around Jupiter and stay there for 15 months. The radiation it will get is the equivalent of more than 100 million dental x-rays. To shield the spacecraft it has a 6-sided wall of titanium one centimeter thick. It won’t stop all radiation from Jupiter but it will slow down the aging effect on the electronics.


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