On this very special week we celebrate Valentine’s Day the sky is full of romance too with the moon pointing to a giant lion’s heart and the mythical goddess of love shining at its most brilliant.
Over the course of the next few days there is a whole line-up of stargazing targets for both the unaided eyes to backyard telescopes.
The brightest planets in the sky remain both Jupiter and Venus. Meanwhile you can still catch Mercury as it is fading fast low in the evening twilight in the southwest horizon. Your best chance to see the innermost planet now is with binoculars.
Mars aficionados will have to wait until near midnight for it to rise in the east and will be at its highest in the south in the pre-dawn hours. If you have good atmospheric conditions a telescope will show off some of its largest surface features. Best views of the Red Planet though will be in April when its apparent diameter will be 50% wider.
Finally Saturn rises around local 1 am and climbs to its highest point in the southern sky by dawn. You can get a two-for-one deal since Mars will be its far right.
Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, Constellations, Jupiter, Mars, Planets, skywatching, space, Stargazing, stars, Valentine, Venus
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New deep-sky images of the Milky Way’s central core reveal picturesque butterfly-shaped gas clouds left behind by dying stars called bipolar planetary nebulae.
And all appear to be mysteriously aligned with one another. Dozens upon dozens of these hauntingly beautiful stellar remnants are oriented in the same direction – despite being separated by many thousands of light years, and each exhibiting unique physical properties. Researchers are searching for how nature could come up with such a bizzare phenomena.
Learn more about this spectacular new discovery that has left astronomers scratching their heads in my story at National Geographic News
Tags: astronomy, Hubble, nebula, science, space
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A glowing cloud of gas and dust has formed one of the most picturesque objects in the universe, around a dying star some 4000 light years away from Earth.
Called the Eskimo or Clownface planetary nebula, this object is one of the favourite targets for backyard telescope users. Now this newly released portrait reveals the Eskimo nebula like never before in a composite of two images snapped by NASA’s Chandra X-ray space telescope and it’s famous cousin, Hubble.
Amazing to think that this is a glimpse of the distant future of our own Sun- 5 billion years from now – when it becomes a Red Giant and blows off it’s atmosphere into space, forming a bubble of glowing gas just like the Eskimo nebula.
This nebula picture is just one of the best space photos chosen by editors at Nat Geo News. Check out the rest of the stunning Space Gallery.
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The most common, humble star in the universe could be a mecca when it comes to astronomers hunting for planets hospitable to life. That’s because a new study is suggesting that red dwarfs – stars that are smaller, dimmer and cooler than our Sun – may have twice as many planets that are in the habitable zone than ever thought. In fact the number of these worlds- ones that have just the right temperature to support liquid water – may number as much as 60 billion. And that’s just in our own Milky Way galaxy.
Read more about this amazing new finding and what impact it will have on exoplanet research in my new article for National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, exoplanet, red dwarf, science, space
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Astronomers today announced that they have detected four never-before-seen quick bursts of radio signals that they believe originated billions of light years away. But the one problem is that they don’t yet know what caused them.
One thing is for sure – they do not originate from Earth and because they appear to be powerful enough to travel such vast distances across the universe – they must have been caused by some gigantic cosmological event. But what could that event be?
The international team of astronomers believe the culprit could possibly be two merging neutron stars or a star dying and being swallowed by a black hole.
What the sky sleuths noticed were Four Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs with durations of only a few milliseconds were detected at high galactic latitudes in the southern sky.
“A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our galaxy about six years ago but no one was certain what it was or even if it was real, so we have spent the last four years searching for more of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts,” says Dan Thornton, the University of Manchester and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization PhD student who led the study in a press statement. “This paper describes four more bursts, removing any doubt that they are real. And the furthest one we detected after a light travelling time of about 8 billion years.”
Using Australia`s CSIRO 64 meter radio telescope, the team listened in on only small chunk of sky when they discovered these bizarre signals, indicating that these signals might be flashing right across the entire sky from multiple locations at any one time.
“The bursts last only a tenth of the blink of an eye. With current telescopes we need to be lucky to look at the right spot at the right time,” explains Michael Kramer, Director at Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn and Professor at Manchester University in a press statement. “But if we could view the sky systematically with ‘radio eyes’ there would be flashes going off all over the sky every day.”
The next step will be to use other telescopes in the search for more signals in the hopes of catching them popping off in other parts of the sky and in real time.
The results are published in the current issue of “Science” (Science Online, July 5, 2013).
Tags: cosmological, radio signals, science, space
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After a 36 year cosmic road trip one of the twin Voyager spacecrafts has entered a bizarre boundary of the solar system that leads directly into the interstellar realm of the Milky Way galaxy.
NASA scientists believe new data from the plucky Voyager 1 probe indicates that it is traveling through the final bubble like layer that surrounds the Sun and planets. When will it officially leave the solar empire is anyone’s guess but when it does it will make history as the first human-made object to do so.
Find out how scientists are following Voyager and what they think the future has in store for it in my story for National Geographic News.
Tags: galaxy, heliosphere, Milky Way, science, space, Voyager 1
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Researchers this past week announced that they have discovered a whole new species of stars. The never-before-seen type of variable star- one that changes its brightness over time- sits within the spectacular NGC 3766 open cluster 7000 light years from Earth. Astronomers believe this discovery will challenge or understanding of stellar formation and evolution.
This open cluster portrait is just one of the best space photos chosen by editors at Nat Geo News. Check out the rest of the Space Gallery.
Tags: NGC 3766, open cluster, variable star
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When talking about the universe the conversation usually centers on mind-bending large structures, but this week astronomers announced they have found a pipsqueak of a galaxy. In fact it now holds the record as the smallest ever detected and it lies relatively close – in our Milky Way’s backyard. It’s so tiny that it shines 20 billion times fainter than our own galaxy!
What’s so fascinating about this find other than its diminutive size is what it is teaching us about the elusive dark matter researchers believe make up 80% of our universe.
Read my entire story about this record-breaking discovery and what impact it will have on our understanding of the cosmos at large, at National Geographic News.
Tags: galaxy, Milky Way
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A team of international astronomers are investigating what looks like the impending death of a dwarf galaxy 54 million light years away. The scientists were clued in by a trail of fireballs streaming thousands of light years behind the small galaxy known as IC 3418.
The tiny elliptical is part of the giant Virgo Cluster of galaxies which has a mass of about 1,000 galaxies and is the nearest large galaxy collection to the group that includes the Milky Way. According to the research team that made the discovery, the core of IC 3418 stopped making stars between 200 and 300 million years ago, but its distinctive fireball-dotted tail shows evidence of recent star formation — within the last few million years or less.
Check out the rest of this amazing astronomical detective story at National Geographic News
Tags: galaxy, IC 3418
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After being at the centre of a constant stakeout by backyard stargazers for over a century , the cosmic suspect known as SS Cygni has finally blown it’s cover. By accurately pinning down the star system to 372 light years from Earth – which is much closer than what the Hubble Space Telescope suggested in 1999- a major astronomical mystery surrounding our understanding of explosive binary star systems like SS Cygni has finally been cracked .
With the help of a worldwide network of dedicated amateur sleuths, professional astronomers tracked down leads, sifted through evidence, finally putting to rest a decade old controversy surrounding the actual distance to this white dwarf-binary system.
Read more about a hobbyist stakeout helped solve a dwarf star enigma in my story at New Scientist magazine
Tags: AAVSO, binary, dwarf nova, Hubble, SS Cygni
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