Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories
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.
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.
Newborn stars are difficult to photograph. They tend to hide in the nebulous stellar nurseries where they formed, enshrouded by thick layers of dust.
The U.S. could be in for quite a show tonight! Astronomers are predicting that the Northern Lights will shine on and off, periodically coating the northern sky in brilliant greens and reds.
Every rule has an exception. One rule in astronomy, supported by considerable evidence, states that dust disks around newborn stars disappear in a few million years. Most likely, they vanish because the material has collected into full-sized planets. Astronomers have discovered the first exception to this rule - a 25-million-year-old dust disk that shows no evidence of planet formation.
Smithsonian astronomers watched as the "Impactor" probe from NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft hit Comet Tempel 1 earlier this week. Results are still coming in, but so far the scientists report seeing only weak emission from water vapor and a host of other gases that were expected to erupt from the impact site.
The Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) has been asleep on orbit for the past 11 months. SWAS operators placed it into hibernation after a highly successful 5.5-year mission highlighted by the discovery of a swarm of comets evaporating around an aging red giant star. Now, they have awakened SWAS again for the first-ever opportunity to study a comet on a collision course with a U.S. space probe.
Interstellar travelers might want to detour around the star system TW Hydrae to avoid a messy planetary construction site. Astronomers have discovered that the gaseous protoplanetary disk surrounding TW Hydrae holds vast swaths of pebbles extending outward for at least 1 billion miles.
The Submillimeter Array (SMA) will be ready and watching when NASA's Deep Impact probe strikes the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1 on July 4th. The impact is expected to excavate material from the comet's interior - material left over from the earliest days of our solar system.
Astronomers find jets everywhere when they look into space. Small jets spout from newborn stars, while huge jets blast out of the centers of galaxies. Yet despite their commonness, the processes that drive them remain shrouded in mystery.
- In medieval musical notation, a sign or neume denoting a shake or trill.