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Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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2005-09-20 16:17:01

Cambridge, MA -- Newborn stars are difficult to photograph. They tend to hide in the nebulous stellar nurseries where they formed, enshrouded by thick layers of dust. Now, Smithsonian astronomer T.K. Sridharan (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and his colleagues have photographed a pair of stellar twins in infrared light, which penetrates the dust. And these babies are whoppers, weighing several times the mass of the Sun. Moreover, Sridharan's images reveal a circumstellar disk...

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2005-09-12 17:25:00

Cambridge, MA -- 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. "This evening, there is about a 70 percent chance of medium-strength aurorae at our Boston latitude," says Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan Cirtain of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "Aurorae could reach even further south." To see the Northern Lights, Cirtain...

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2005-07-19 12:45:00

Cambridge, MA -- 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. "Finding this disk is as unexpected as locating a 200-year-old person," said astronomer...

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2005-07-08 12:40:00

Cambridge, MA -- Smithsonian astronomers watched as the "Impactor" probe from NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft hit Comet Tempel 1 earlier this week. They monitored the impact using the ground-based Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii and NASA's orbiting Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS). 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 most...

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2005-06-28 11:29:01

Cambridge, MA -- 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. "We knew there was life left in SWAS," said SWAS Principal Investigator...

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2005-06-24 10:24:01

Cambridge, MA -- Interstellar travelers might want to detour around the star system TW Hydrae to avoid a messy planetary construction site. Astronomer David Wilner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and his colleagues have discovered that the gaseous protoplanetary disk surrounding TW Hydrae holds vast swaths of pebbles extending outward for at least 1 billion miles. These rocky chunks should continue to grow in size as they collide and stick together until they...

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2005-06-17 00:45:00

Cambridge, MA -- 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. "The SMA will be the only operational millimeter or submillimeter array observing Tempel 1 at the time of the impact" said astronomer Charlie Qi of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "As...

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2005-06-15 09:24:37

Cambridge, MA -- 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. Even relatively nearby stellar jets hide their origins behind almost impenetrable clouds of dust. All stars, including our sun, pass through a jet phase during their "childhood," so astronomers are eager to understand how jets form and how...

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2005-06-06 10:05:00

Cambridge, MA -- In 1987, earthbound observers saw a star explode in the nearby dwarf galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. Astronomers eagerly studied this supernova-the closest seen in the past 300 years-and have continued to examine its remains. Although its blast wave has lit up surrounding clouds of gas and dust, the supernova appears to have left no core behind. Astronomers now report that even the sharp eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope failed to locate the black hole or...

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2005-05-23 15:28:13

Cambridge, MA -- For the first time, amateur and professional astronomers have teamed up to discover a new planet circling a distant star. The planet was detected by looking for the effect of its gravitational field on light from a more distant star, a technique known as microlensing. It is only the second world to be discovered using the microlensing technique. Gravitational microlensing offers the potential for detecting Earth-mass planets using existing or near-future technologies. "This...


Word of the Day
malpais
  • The ragged surface of a lava-flow.
'Malpais' translates from Spanish as 'bad land.'