NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, in orbit since 1999, studies the high-energy Universe, where black holes, exploding stars, and mysterious matter hold sway.
Since the 1980s, astronomers have known about a mysterious class of objects that they call “ultraluminous X-ray sources,” or ULXs.
A solar flare explodes on May 9 in an image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
The phenomenon was short-lived and didn’t spark any coronal mass ejections, huge clouds of charged solar particles that erupt from the sun’s upper atmosphere.
The flare is shown in the 131 Angstrom wavelength of light—typically colored teal—which gave scientists the most detailed picture of the flare.
Image courtesy ESA/PACS/SPIRE, CEA/CNRS/INSU
The Cygnus-X stellar nursery stars in a “stunning” infrared picture released May 10 by the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory.
The chaotic jumble of dust and gas is an extremely active region of giant-star birth in the Cygnus constellation, some 4,500 light-years from Earth. (See another infrared picture of the Cygnus constellation.)
“Shocking” find may redraw picture of solar system’s cosmic shield.
Image courtesy STScI/AURA/NASA
Published May 10, 2012
From its orbit around Earth, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite measured the speeds of interstellar particles entering at the fringes of our solar system, 9 billion miles (14.5 billion kilometers) from the sun.
Plugging the new data into computer models, the IBEX team calculates that the sun is moving at about 52,000 miles (83,700 kilometers) an hour—about 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) slower than thought.
The discovery suggests that the protective boundary separating our solar system from the rest of the galaxy is missing a bow shock, a major structural component thought to control the influx of high-energy cosmic rays.
The sun is constantly sending out charged particles in all directions, forming a cocoon around the solar system called the heliosphere.
Like a boat moving through water, it’s long been thought that the “bow” of the heliosphere forms a crescent-shaped shockwave as our solar system plows through the surrounding cloud of interstellar gas. (See “Solar System’s ‘Nose’ Found; Aimed at Constellation Scorpius.”)
But the new IBEX findings mean the sun is moving so slow that pressure from material flowing around the heliosphere is 25 percent lower than expected—not enough for a bow shock.
Until now, “all the solar system models and theories included a bow shock,” said study leader David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
“Having learned for nearly three decades about it, I was literally shocked when we found it was missing.”
Cosmic-Ray Shielding Key for Life?
The absence of a bow shock is significant, McComas said, because it may indicate that the heliosphere is actually more robust than thought.
With less pressure from outside material, the boundary region isn’t being compressed and therefore weakened as much as expected, which means it should better repel cosmic rays.
(Related: “Solar System ‘Force Field’ Shrinks Fast.”)
And understanding exactly how the heliosphere acts as a gatekeeper for cosmic rays could help scientists evaluate the chances for life on other worlds.
According to McComas, some researchers believe that the cosmic rays that do get through the heliosphere can impact Earth’s climate, because the high-energy particles can ionize—or electrically charge—matter in the atmosphere, leading to heightened cloud formation and lightning generation.
Other experts think the particles could even be related to bursts of evolution or extinction in our planet’s history, because the radiation can influence DNA patterns.
For now, the science behind how cosmic rays have influenced Earth is quite controversial, said Seth Redfield, an astronomer from Wesleyan University in Connecticut who was not involved with the new IBEX study.
Still, considering the rays’ expected effects, Redfield said, “it seems obvious to me that there will be scenarios or times when the cosmic-ray flux on a planet is important and [is] having a major influence on the evolution of the planetary atmosphere or even on biological processes on its surface.”
In that case, astronomers assessing the habitability of alien planets may need to start considering not only the chances for liquid water but also the strength of other stars’ protective cocoons, study leader McComas said.
“There is no doubt,” he said, “that questions about cosmic-ray shielding go right to the heart of some really important questions related to life as we know it.”
The slower-sun study appears in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
Odd orbits of remote objects hint at unseen world, new calculations suggest.
Richard A. Lovett in Timberline Lodge, Oregon
National Geographic News
Published May 11, 2012
Too far out to be easily spotted by telescopes, the potential unseen planet appears to be making its presence felt by disturbing the orbits of so-called Kuiper belt objects, said Rodney Gomes, an astronomer at the National Observatory of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
Once considered the ninth planet in our system, the dwarf planet Pluto, for example, is one of the largest Kuiper belt objects, at about 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) wide. Dozens of the other objects are hundreds of miles across, and more are being discovered every year.
What’s intriguing, Gomes said, is that, according to his new calculations, about a half dozen Kuiper belt objects—including the remote body known as Sedna—are in strange orbits compared to where they should be, based on existing solar system models. (Related: “Pluto Neighbor Gets Downsized.”)
The objects’ unexpected orbits have a few possible explanations, said Gomes, who presented his findings Tuesday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Timberline Lodge, Oregon.
“But I think the easiest one is a planetary-mass solar companion”—a planet that orbits very far out from the sun but that’s massive enough to be having gravitational effects on Kuiper belt objects.
Mystery Planet a Captured Rogue?
For the new work, Gomes analyzed the orbits of 92 Kuiper belt objects, then compared his results to computer models of how the bodies should be distributed, with and without an additional planet.
If there’s no distant world, Gomes concludes, the models don’t produce the highly elongated orbits we see for six of the objects.
How big exactly the planetary body might be isn’t clear, but there are a lot of possibilities, Gomes added.
Based on his calculations, Gomes thinks a Neptune-size world, about four times bigger than Earth, orbiting 140 billion miles (225 billion kilometers) away from the sun—about 1,500 times farther than Earth—would do the trick.
But so would a Mars-size object—roughly half Earth’s size—in a highly elongated orbit that would occasionally bring the body sweeping to within 5 billion miles (8 billion kilometers) of the sun.
Gomes speculates that the mystery object could be a rogue planet that was kicked out of its own star system and later captured by the sun’s gravity. (See “‘Nomad’ Planets More Common Than Thought, May Orbit Black Holes.”)
Or the putative planet could have formed closer to our sun, only to be cast outward by gravitational encounters with other planets.
However, actually finding such a world would be a challenge.
To begin with, the planet might be pretty dim. Also, Gomes’s simulations don’t give astronomers any clue as to where to point their telescopes—”it can be anywhere,” he said.
No Smoking Gun
Other astronomers are intrigued but say they’ll want a lot more proof before they’re willing to agree that the solar system—again—has nine planets. (Also see “Record Nine-Planet Star System Discovered?”)
“Obviously, finding another planet in the solar system is a big deal,” said Rory Barnes, an astronomer at the University of Washington. But, he added, “I don’t think he really has any evidence that suggests it is out there.”
Instead, he added, Gomes “has laid out a way to determine how such a planet could sculpt parts of our solar system. So while, yes, the evidence doesn’t exist yet, I thought the bigger point was that he showed us that there are ways to find that evidence.”
Douglas Hamilton, an astronomer from the University of Maryland, agrees that the new findings are far from definitive.
“What he showed in his probability arguments is that it’s slightly more likely. He doesn’t have a smoking gun yet.”
And Hal Levison, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says he isn’t sure what to make of Gomes’s finding.
“It seems surprising to me that a [solar] companion as small as Neptune could have the effect he sees,” Levison said.
But “I know Rodney, and I’m sure he did the calculations right.”
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for we are living yeat to remember it …RIP Joel Goldsmith
Dupa durerea cauzata de intreruperea brusca a celui mai iubit serial Stargate Universe, am supravietuit, dar am ramas cu rani grave, profunde cicatrici in inima mea mult prea albastra, ca sa trebuiasca sa pot primi inca o lovitura, disparitia marelui compozitor Joel Goldsmith, el va continua sa compuna acolo, langa J.S. Bach, Mozzart,Brancusi, acolo in al saptelea cer, acolo unde doar cei ce s-au ridicat dincolo de conditia de muritor ajung, doar cei care au tentat creatia, si care au adus darurile lor pentru a ne vindeca suferinta si pentru a umple golurile din inimile noastre cu putin frumos. Odihneste-te in pace, Maestre al maretiei, muzica ta va continua sa se auda in inima mea si a celor care te-au iubit.
Desi nu am cunoscut personal nici unul din cei care au luat parte la crearea marelui proiect STARGATE, pot spuna ca-i cunosc, ca mi-au fost prieteni apropiati in tot acest timp, pentru numele lui Dumnezeu, au trecut deja 15 ani, in care am trait si respirat Stargate intr-o forma sau alta. Prieteni, am mai pierdut un Zeu, am ramas acum orfani de Joel Goldsmith, filmul sf nu va mai cunoaste curand un compositor atat de profund si valoros ca titanicul Joel.
Acum imi ridic privirea catre Destiny cum aluneca prin univers, mai repede ca lumina, si totusi nu prin hiperspatiu, catre punctul in care a inceput totul. Pace si iubire, lumina si muzica ta ne vor calauzi pe drumul nostru prin viata. Fie ca Dumnezau sa-ti odihneasca neobositul suflet in pace.
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for we are living yet to remember it …RIP Joel Goldsmith
After the pain of abrupt discontinuation of the most beloved series SGU, I survived, but I was left with serious injuries, deep scars are crossing my blue heart, yet I have to receive another blow, the disappearance of the great composer Joel Goldsmith, he will continue to compose there, near J.S. Bach, Mozart, C.Brancusi, there in the seventh heaven, where only those who have risen beyond the reach of mortal condition, only those who are tempted creation, and who brought their gifts to heal our pain and to fill the gaps in our hearts so beautiful. Rest In Peace, Master of greatness, your music will continue to hear in my heart and in tha hearts of those who loved you, who had the privilege to know you as a human in flesh and blood. The world will no longer be the same without you. Thank you for the creations you gave us, thank you Master .
Although I personally knew none of those who where taking part in creation of the great project, STARGATE, I can say that I know them all, because we had been close friends during this time, for God’s sake, 15 years has already passed in, and I lived and breathed Stargate in one form or another. Friends, We lost a God, we are now orphaned by Joel Goldsmith, the Sci-fi world just lost a limb, a composer we shall remember as the Titanic Joel Goldsmith, profound and truly universal.
Now I look up to the Destiny, how she fly deep in the universe faster than light, and yet not through hyperspace, to the point where it all began. Peace and love, your light and your music will guide us on our journey through life. May the gods rests your tireless soul.