Voyager 1 Leaving the Sun’s House

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 4, 2013 – 11:15 am -

Voyager is now at the doorstep of the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.

Voyager 1 is now at the doorstep of the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.

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.


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Small-Fry Galaxy Breaks Record

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 12, 2013 – 6:12 pm -

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.


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Galaxy Death Watch

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 3, 2013 – 9:30 pm -

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


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Hubble Spies a Cosmic Bauble

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 7, 2013 – 3:50 pm -

Hubble sees the ashes of a star gone supernova.   Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Claude Cornen)

Hubble sees the ashes of a star gone supernova. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Claude Cornen)

The Hubble Space Telescope has snapped an amazing image of a supernova remnant-  dubbed SNR 0519-  located in one of the Milky Way’s small satellite galaxies  150,000 light years from Earth.

Wispy shells of blood-red colored gas filaments appears to float peacefully in space however it marks the site of a cataclysmic event that occurred 600 years ago.

The shell of material we see in this image was once part of a white dwarf- an Earth-sized elderly star that may have looked a lot like our own sun in its younger days.  This stellar progenitor was in a close binary star system where gas from its neighboring star was gravitationally pulled onto the surface of the white dwarf.  Over time this gas accumulated and eventually detonated in a thermonuclear explosion that resulted in the beautiful deep-sky object that we see today .

As the years go by this gaseous envelope will continue to expand and ultimately, after many millennia, dissipate into the surrounding interstellar medium.

SNR 0519 is found within the southern constellation Dorado (the dolphin fish) within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – the fourth largest galaxy in our local collection of islands of stars known as the Local Group.


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Watch PanSTARRS Meet Iconic Galaxy This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 3, 2013 – 8:08 pm -

Sometimes celestial objects line-up in the sky so that they produce an amazing sky show. That is exactly what is happening in our evening skies this week as comet PanSTARRS and the famous Andromeda galaxy have a close encounter. The cosmic pair will be quite a sight through binoculars and small backyard telescopes, and of course create a magical photographic opportunity not to be missed.

This was the view above the Alps in Austia on Monday night.  Comet PanSTARRS is fast approaching M31. By April 4th they will be at their closest separation.  Credit:Michael Jaeger

This was the view above the Alps in Austia on Monday night. Comet PanSTARRS is fast approaching M31. By April 4th they will be at their closest separation. Credit:Michael Jaeger

Check out all the details at my National Geographic story.


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Super-Heavyweight Black Hole Found

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 2, 2012 – 6:20 pm -

A monstrous black hole—17 billion times the mass of the Sun and possibly the largest ever detected—appears to be too big for its galactic home, leaving astronomers scratching their heads about its very existence.

The cosmic behemoth, at the heart of a distant galaxy, is estimated to be 4,000 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Read more about this giant predator and why it may change our understanding of galaxies at my National Geographic story.


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Video: Weekly Space News Interview

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 2, 2012 – 5:56 pm -

Check out some of the cool space news coming out this past week on my weekly CTV News Channel interview.


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Video: Weekly Space News Interview

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 18, 2012 – 3:18 pm -

Check out some of the cool space news coming out this week I highlight on my weekly CTV News channel interview.


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Monster Galaxy Cluster Breaks Records (Video)

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 16, 2012 – 11:21 am -

Composite image of Phoenix galaxy cluster. Credit: NASA/NOAO/MIT,NSF

Seven billion light years away a newfound galaxy cluster is breaking records and may help unlock secrets related to galaxy evolution and dark energy, according to a new study released this week.

Using telescopes located in Antarctica and in space, a team of astronomers have discovered not only one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, but a massive individual galaxy at its center that is churning out newborn stars at unheard of rates.

According to the lead author of this new study, Michael McDonald an astrophysicist from MIT, this discovery will shed  light on large scale galaxy evolution in the universe.

“The prevailing idea is that the most massive galaxies in the Universe grow by consuming smaller galaxies and now we have an example of a massive galaxy which appears to be growing on its own, by forming new stars,” he said. “It appears that this starburst could account for a substantial amount of the galaxy’s stars, suggesting that this is an important ingredient for galaxy evolution.”

McDonald’s team also believes there is much more to be learned from this record-breaking cluster halfway across the Universe. The simple existence of such a massive cluster may help understand Dark energy – the mysterious force that is pulling the universe apart – and help constrain its properties.

“The number of exceptionally massive galaxy clusters like this in the Universe is very sensitive to the assumed nature of the dark energy, so even having 2 or 3 clusters of this mass can rule out various theoretical models,” added McDonald.

Here is a short video explainer of what this amazing discovery is all about…

For more details read my National Geographic story…


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Milky Way’s Hyperactive Twin

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 2, 2009 – 11:52 am -

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Astronomers have released a striking new image of a nearby galaxy that many astronomers think closely resembles our own Milky Way. Though the galaxy is seen edge-on, observations of NGC 4945 suggest that this hive of stars is a spiral galaxy much like our own, with swirling, luminous arms and a bar-shaped central region. These resemblances aside, NGC 4945 has a brighter center that likely harbors a supermassive black hole, which is devouring reams of matter and blasting energy out into space.

As NGC 4945 is only about 13 million light-years away in the constellation of Centaurus (the Centaur), a modest telescope is sufficient for skygazers to spot this remarkable galaxy. Today’s new portrait of NGC 4945 comes courtesy of the 2.2-meter MPG/ESO telescope at the LaSilla Observatory in Chile.

NGC 4945 appears cigar-shaped from our perspective on Earth, but the galaxy is actually a disc many times wider than it is thick, with bands of stars and glowing gas spiralinga round its center. With the use of special optical filters to isolate the color of light emitted by heated gases such as hydrogen, the image displays sharp contrasts in NGC 4945 that indicate areas of star formation. Other observations have revealed that NGC 4945 has an active galactic nucleus, meaning its central bulge emits far more energy than calmer galaxies like the Milky Way.

Scientists classify NGC 4945 as a Seyfert type of galaxy which have supermassive black holes that cause the turmoil in their centers. Black holes gravitationally draw gas and dust into them, accelerating and heating this attracted matter until it emits high-energy radiation, including X-rays and ultraviolet light. Most large, spiral galaxies, including the Milky Way, host a black hole in their centers, though many of these dark monsters no longer actively “feed” at this stage in galactic development.

- adapted from a ESO news annoucement


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