Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

Black Hole Birth Announcement
2011-11-17 14:40:32

For the first time, astronomers have produced a complete description of a black hole, a concentration of mass so dense that not even light can escape its powerful gravitational pull. Their precise measurements have allowed them to reconstruct the history of the object from its birth some six million years ago. Using several telescopes, both ground-based and in orbit, the scientists unraveled longstanding mysteries about the object called Cygnus X-1, a famous binary-star system discovered...

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...

Study Deepens Dark Matter Mystery
2011-10-17 13:15:18

Like all galaxies, our Milky Way is home to a strange substance called dark matter. Dark matter is invisible, betraying its presence only through its gravitational pull. Without dark matter holding them together, our galaxy's speedy stars would fly off in all directions. The nature of dark matter is a mystery -- a mystery that a new study has only deepened. "After completing this study, we know less about dark matter than we did before," said lead author Matt Walker, a Hubble Fellow at the...

Kepler Finds Invisible World Tugging On Planet
2011-09-09 05:06:44

  Usually, running five minutes late is a bad thing since you might lose your dinner reservation or miss out on tickets to the latest show. But when a planet runs five minutes late, astronomers get excited because it suggests that another world is nearby. NASA's Kepler spacecraft has spotted a planet that alternately runs late and early in its orbit because a second, "invisible" world is tugging on it. This is the first definite detection of a previously unknown planet using this...

White Dwarfs May Need To Slow Down Before Going Supernova
2011-09-07 04:24:24

  Older stars may have to slow down their rotations before exploding as supernovae, according to a new study published earlier this month by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). In a September 6 press release, the researchers compare the phenomenon to "Speed," a motion picture whose plot revolves around a bus that will explode if it travels too slowly. According to their findings, which have been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the...

Chandra Discovers Nearest Pair Of Supermassive Black Holes
2011-09-01 06:13:01

  Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered the first pair of supermassive black holes in a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way. Approximately 160 million light years from Earth, the pair is the nearest known such phenomenon. The black holes are located near the center of the spiral galaxy NGC 3393. Separated by only 490 light years, the black holes are likely the remnant of a merger of two galaxies of unequal mass a billion or more years ago. "If this...

2011-08-11 12:00:00

Astronomers said on Thursday that they have discovered the darkest known exoplanet they say is the size of Jupiter. The researchers said exoplanet, TrES-2b, is blacker than coal or any planet or moon in our solar system. "TrES-2b is considerably less reflective than black acrylic paint, so it's truly an alien world," astronomer David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), lead author on the paper reporting the research, said in a statement. TrES-2b lacks reflective...

2011-07-22 05:50:00

Earth's aurorae, or Northern and Southern Lights, provide a dazzling light show to people living in the polar regions. Shimmering curtains of green and red undulate across the sky like a living thing. New research shows that aurorae on distant "hot Jupiters" could be 100-1000 times brighter than Earthly aurorae. They also would ripple from equator to poles (due to the planet's proximity to any stellar eruptions), treating the entire planet to an otherworldly spectacle. "I'd love to get a...

2011-06-01 08:40:00

NEW YORK, June 1, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Four astronomers who found a way to recreate the growth of the universe are the recipients of the 2011 Cosmology Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation. Marc Davis, a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at the University of California at Berkeley; George Efstathiou, the director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology in Cambridge; Carlos Frenk, the director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University;...

Word of the Day
  • Nautical, the visiting and carousing of sailors in the Greenland ships.
This word is apparently from a confusion of two similar Dutch words: 'mallemerok,' a foolish woman, and 'mallemok,' a name for some persons among the crew of a whaling vessel.