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Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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2006-01-10 06:35:00

Washington, DC -- The Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) is a challenging stargazing target for amateur astronomers. It is one of the closest planetary nebulas - a type of nebula formed from gas ejected by a dying sunlike star. Yet it is so large and spread out in the sky that it appears very dim in a telescope eyepiece. Long-exposure photographs unveil the true beauty of this celestial wonder. A new portrait of the Helix Nebula, created by the penetrating infrared gaze of NASA's Spitzer Space...

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2005-12-27 13:55:00

Cambridge, MA -- The Perseus spiral arm - the nearest spiral arm in the Milky Way outside the Sun's orbit - lies only half as far from Earth as some previous studies had suggested. An international team of astronomers measured a highly accurate distance to the Perseus arm for the first time using a globe-spanning system of radio dishes known as the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), which offers the sharpest vision of any telescope in existence. Additional VLBA measurements will help...

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2005-12-21 16:45:00

Cambridge, MA -- A team of astronomers has found faint visible echoes of three ancient supernovae by detecting their centuries-old light as it is reflected by clouds of interstellar gas hundreds of light-years removed from the original explosions. Located in a nearby galaxy in the southern skies of Earth, the three exploding stars flashed into short-lived brilliance at least two centuries ago, and probably longer. The oldest one is likely to have occurred more than six hundred years ago....

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2005-11-29 15:45:00

Cambridge, MA -- Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered a remarkably small brown dwarf surrounded by a dusty disk. The brown dwarf contains only about 8 times the mass of Jupiter, making it one of the smallest known brown dwarfs. It is even smaller than several planets around other stars, leading to the question of whether any objects that form from the disk around it should be considered planets or moons. "There are two camps when it comes to defining planets...

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2005-11-15 15:00:00

Cambridge, MA -- Just in time for Thanksgiving, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has harvested a bounty of young stars. A new infrared image of the reflection nebula NGC 1333, located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Perseus, reveals dozens of stars like the Sun but much younger. "These newborns are less than a million years old - babies by astronomical standards," said Rob Gutermuth of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "Our Sun may have formed in a...

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2005-11-09 13:05:00

JPL -- A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveals billowing mountains of dust ablaze with the fires of stellar youth. Captured by Spitzer's infrared eyes, the majestic image resembles the iconic "Pillars of Creation" picture taken of the Eagle Nebula in visible light by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. Both views feature star-forming clouds of cool gas and dust that have been sculpted into pillars by radiation and winds from hot, massive stars. The Spitzer image shows the...

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2005-11-03 11:30:00

Cambridge, MA -- Hubble's iconic images include many shots of cosmic clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. For example, the famous "Pillars of Creation" mark the birthplace of new stars within the Eagle Nebula. Yet despite their beauty, visible-light images show only the nebulae surfaces. Baby stars may hide beneath, invisible even to Hubble's powerful gaze. Harvard astronomers have pioneered a new way to peer below the surface using near-infrared light that is invisible to the human eye....

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2005-10-04 09:52:43

Cambridge, MA -- In an exercise that demonstrates the power of a multiwavelength investigation using diverse facilities, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have deciphered the true nature of a mysterious object hiding inside a dark cosmic cloud. They found that the cloud, once thought to be featureless, contains a baby star, or possibly a failed star known as a "brown dwarf," that is still forming within its dusty cocoon. Observations indicate that the...

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2005-10-03 12:55:00

Cambridge, MA -- Common wisdom holds that we can never see a black hole because nothing can escape it - not even light. Fortunately, black holes aren't completely black. As gas is pulled into a black hole by its strong gravitational force, the gas heats up and radiates. That radiation can be used to illuminate the black hole and paint its profile. Within a few years, astronomers believe they will be able to peer close to the horizon of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Already,...

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2005-09-22 14:50:00

Cambridge, MA -- What did the very first stars look like? How did they live and die? Astronomers have ideas, but no proof. The first stars are so distant and formed so long ago that they are invisible to our best telescopes. Until they explode. Hypernovas (more powerful cousins of supernovas) and their associated gamma-ray bursts offer astronomers the possibility of detecting light from the first generations of stars. NASA's Swift satellite already has seen a gamma-ray burst (GRB) with a...


Word of the Day
cock-a-hoop
  • Exultant; jubilant; triumphant; on the high horse.
  • Tipsy; slightly intoxicated.
This word may come from the phrase 'to set cock on hoop,' or 'to drink festively.' Its origin otherwise is unclear. A theory, according to the Word Detective, is that it's a 'transliteration of the French phrase 'coq a huppe,' meaning a rooster displaying its crest ('huppe') in a pose of proud defiance.' Therefore, 'cock-a-hoop' would 'liken a drunken man to a boastful and aggressive rooster.'
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