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Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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2010-11-19 09:13:15

Dr. Brian Geoffrey Marsden passed away Thursday, Nov. 18 at the age of 73 following a prolonged illness. He was a Supervisory Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Director Emeritus of the Minor Planet Center. "Brian was one of the most influential comet investigators of the twentieth century," said Charles Alcock, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, "and definitely one of the most colorful!" Dr. Marsden specialized in celestial mechanics and...

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2010-11-09 14:20:00

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way. The feature spans 50,000 light-years and may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy. "What we see are two gamma-ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center," said Doug Finkbeiner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who first recognized the...


Word of the Day
baudekin
  • A rich embroidered or brocaded silk fabric woven originally with a warp of gold thread.
'Baudekin' seems to be an alternative form of 'baldachin,' from the Italian 'Baldacco,' Baghdad, the city where the material was made.
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