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Mars Exploration Rovers are continuing to make discoveries.
Well into their extra exploration time, NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers are continuing to make discoveries on the Red Planet. Spirit has nearly completed the journey to Columbia Hills, several kilometres from the landing spot, and it can already see what might be layered rock in an outcropping. On the other side of the planet, Opportunity is still on the rim of "Endurance Crater", searching for a potential entrance into the crater, and examining the texture of rocks.
Combined data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Palomar 200-inch telescope have uncovered the remnant of a gamma-ray burst - one of the most powerful known explosions in the universe - in our galactic neighborhood. W49B is a barrel-shaped nebula located 35,000 light-years from Earth. In the cosmic wreckage of the explosion, Astronomers have found chemicals consistent with the collapsar model of a gamma-ray burst. In this model, a massive star forms inside a cloud of dust and gas and then becomes a black hole, creating a powerful explosion.
The first privately built manned spacecraft will rocket into space on June 21 according to a recent announcement from Scaled Composites. The company's SpaceShipOne will fly to an altitude of 100 km (62 miles), and whoever pilots it will be the first private citizen to receive Astronaut wings for heading into space. Although SpaceShipOne is aiming for the Ansari X-Prize, it won't be on this attempt, since the spacecraft will only be carrying the pilot. To win the prize, SpaceShipOne will need to carry the equivalent weight for two more passengers and complete the journey to space twice within two weeks.
Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have found what they believe is an intermediate sized black hole at the heart of a nebula in a nearby galaxy. Since black holes themselves are invisible, they located it because a spot inside the nebula is emitting a tremendous amount of X-rays, and illuminating a 100 light-year swath. By calculating the amount of X-rays pouring out, Astronomers estimate that the black hole has about 25-40 solar masses. It's unknown how these intermediate-sized black holes form, since so few of them have ever been seen.
Most research seems to indicate that planets form around stars in only the first few million years. Many stars have protoplanetary disks at one million years, but they're all gone by 10 million years. The trick for Astronomers is to find stars in that in-between age, and catch planets in the act of forming around the parent stars. One star, Trumpler 37, seems to be at that middle age and is actively accreting material at the equivalent of 10 Jupiter masses in a million years.
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