Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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;...

2011-05-26 14:33:32

Five billion years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. This will mark a moment of both destruction and creation. The galaxies will lose their separate identities as they merge into one. At the same time, cosmic clouds of gas and dust will smash together, triggering the birth of new stars. To understand our past and imagine our future, we must understand what happens when galaxies collide. But since galaxy collisions take place over millions to billions of...

2011-05-25 10:56:40

For many movie stars, their age is a well-kept secret. In space, the same is true of the actual stars. Like our Sun, most stars look almost the same for most of their lives. So how can we tell if a star is one billion or 10 billion years old? Astronomers may have found a solution - measuring the star's spin. "A star's rotation slows down steadily with time, like a top spinning on a table, and can be used as a clock to determine its age," says astronomer Soren Meibom of the Harvard-Smithsonian...

2011-05-25 06:52:35

NASA's Kepler spacecraft is proving itself to be a prolific planet hunter. Within just the first four months of data, astronomers have found evidence for more than 1,200 planetary candidates. Of those, 408 reside in systems containing two or more planets, and most of those look very different than our solar system. In particular, the Kepler systems with multiple planets are much flatter than our solar system. They have to be for Kepler to spot them. Kepler watches for a planet to cross in...

2011-04-10 06:35:00

A galaxy's core is a busy place, crowded with stars swarming around an enormous black hole. When galaxies collide, it gets even messier as the two black holes spiral toward each other, merging to make an even bigger gravitational monster. Once it is created, the monster goes on a rampage. The merger kicks the black hole into surrounding stars. There it finds a hearty meal, shredding and swallowing stars at a rapid clip. According to new research by Nick Stone and Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian...

2011-04-07 08:50:00

White dwarfs are dead stars that pack a Sun's-worth of matter into an Earth-sized ball. Astronomers have just discovered an amazing pair of white dwarfs whirling around each other once every 39 minutes. This is the shortest-period pair of white dwarfs now known. Moreover, in a few million years they will collide and merge to create a single star. "These stars have already lived a full life. When they merge, they'll essentially be 'reborn' and enjoy a second life," said Smithsonian astronomer...

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...

2010-12-14 07:15:00

In an exciting example of international collaboration, a Qatar astronomer teamed with scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and other institutions to discover a new alien world. This "hot Jupiter," now named Qatar-1b, adds to the growing list of alien planets orbiting distant stars. Its discovery demonstrates the power of science to cross political boundaries and increase ties between nations. "The discovery of Qatar-1b is a great achievement -- one that further...

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...

2010-12-01 12:50:00

The atmosphere around a super-Earth exoplanet has been analyzed for the first time by an international team of astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope. The planet, which is known as GJ 1214b, was studied as it passed in front of its parent star and some of the starlight passed through the planet's atmosphere. We now know that the atmosphere is either mostly water in the form of steam or is dominated by thick clouds or hazes. The results will appear in the 2 December 2010 issue of the...

Word of the Day
  • A landsman who is making his first voyage at sea; a novice who enters naval service from rural life.
According to the OED, a grass-comber is also 'a sailor's term for one who has been a farm-labourer.'