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Latest Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Stories

Alien Hunters Should Look For 'City Lights'
2011-11-04 03:42:51

In the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, astronomers have hunted for radio signals and ultra-short laser pulses. In a new paper, Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Edwin Turner (Princeton University) suggest a new technique for finding aliens: look for their city lights. "Looking for alien cities would be a long shot, but wouldn't require extra resources. And if we succeed, it would change our perception of our place in the universe," said Loeb. As with...

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2011-01-04 10:10:00

During a total eclipse of the Sun, skywatchers are awed by the shimmering corona -- a faint glow that surrounds the Sun like gossamer flower petals. This outer layer of the Sun's atmosphere is, paradoxically, hotter than the Sun's surface, but so tenuous that its light is overwhelmed by the much brighter solar disk. The corona becomes visible only when the Sun is blocked, which happens for just a few minutes during an eclipse. Now, an instrument on board NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory...

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2010-12-07 14:25:00

Our Sun can be a menace when it sends out powerful solar blasts of radiation towards the Earth. Astronomers keenly watch the Sun to learn more about what powers these solar eruptions, in hopes of being able to predict them. New research shows that one-third of the Sun's blasts are "sneak attacks" that may occur without warning. "If space weather forecasters rely on some of the traditional danger signs, they'll miss a significant fraction of solar eruptions," said Suli Ma of the...

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2010-11-19 09:13:15

Dr. Brian Geoffrey Marsden passed away Thursday, Nov. 18 at the age of 73 following a prolonged illness. He was a Supervisory Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Director Emeritus of the Minor Planet Center. "Brian was one of the most influential comet investigators of the twentieth century," said Charles Alcock, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, "and definitely one of the most colorful!" Dr. Marsden specialized in celestial mechanics and...

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2010-06-09 12:45:47

Comet McNaught C/2009 R1 will become brighter than first thought and will be visible to the naked eye over the next few weeks. Australian astronomer Robert McNaught discovered the comet last September using the 0.5-meter Uppsala Schmidt telescope and a CCD camera.  Enough observations were made of the comet to allow Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., to calculate its orbit. Comet McNaught is expected to pass closest to the sun at 37 million...

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2010-01-01 08:15:00

NASA has extended a contract with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., to provide science and operational support for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a powerful tool used to better understand the structure and evolution of the universe. The contract extension with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory provides continued science and operations support to Chandra. This approximately $172 million modification brings the total value of the contract to approximately...

2009-12-31 15:00:00

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA has extended a contract with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., to provide science and operational support for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a powerful tool used to better understand the structure and evolution of the universe. (Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO) The contract extension with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory provides continued science and operations support...

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2009-12-15 09:55:00

About 550 light-years from Earth, a star like our Sun is writhing in its death throes. Chi Cygni has swollen in size to become a red giant star so large that it would swallow every planet out to Mars in our solar system. Moreover, it has begun to pulse dramatically in and out, beating like a giant heart. New close-up photos of the surface of this distant star show its throbbing motions in unprecedented detail. "This work opens a window onto the fate of our Sun five billion years from now,...

2009-07-23 08:07:00

WASHINGTON, July 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ten years ago, on July 23, 1999, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia and deployed into orbit. Chandra has doubled its original five-year mission, ushering in an unprecedented decade of discovery for the high-energy universe. (Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO ) With its unrivaled ability to create high-resolution X-ray images, Chandra has enabled astronomers to...

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2009-02-24 09:39:37

On long, dark winter nights, the constellation of Orion the Hunter dominates the sky. Within the Hunter's sword, the Orion Nebula swaddles a cluster of newborn stars called the Trapezium. These stars are young but powerful, each one shining with the brilliance of 100,000 Suns. They are also massive, containing 15 to 30 times as much material as the Sun. Where did the Trapezium stars come from? The question is not as simple as it seems. When it comes to the theory of how massive stars form,...


Word of the Day
attercop
  • A spider.
  • Figuratively, a peevish, testy, ill-natured person.
'Attercop' comes from the Old English 'atorcoppe,' where 'atter' means 'poison, venom' and‎ 'cop' means 'spider.' 'Coppa' is a derivative of 'cop,' top, summit, round head, or 'copp,' cup, vessel, which refers to 'the supposed venomous properties of spiders,' says the OED. 'Copp' is still found in the word 'cobweb.'
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