Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

2010-08-03 06:45:00

Sky viewers might get to enjoy some spectacular Northern Lights, or aurorae, in the early morning hours of August 4th. After a long slumber, the Sun is waking up. Early Sunday morning, the Sun's surface erupted and blasted tons of plasma (ionized atoms) into interplanetary space. That plasma is headed our way, and when it arrives, it could create a spectacular light show. "This eruption is directed right at us, and is expected to get here early in the day on August 4th," said astronomer Leon...

2010-07-22 09:20:00

A hundred million years ago, a triple-star system was traveling through the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy when it made a life-changing misstep. The trio wandered too close to the galaxy's giant black hole, which captured one of the stars and hurled the other two out of the Milky Way. Adding to the stellar game of musical chairs, the two outbound stars merged to form a super-hot, blue star. This story may seem like science fiction, but astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope...

2010-07-13 06:40:00

When a star explodes as a supernova, it shines so brightly that it can be seen from millions of light-years away. One particular supernova variety - Type Ia - brightens and dims so predictably that astronomers use them to measure the universe's expansion. The resulting discovery of dark energy and the accelerating universe rewrote our understanding of the cosmos. Yet the origin of these supernovae, which have proved so useful, remains unknown. "The question of what causes a Type Ia supernova...

2010-05-25 08:50:00

For over 10 years, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has repeatedly observed the Andromeda Galaxy for a combined total of nearly one million seconds. This unique data set has given astronomers an unprecedented view of the nearest supermassive black hole outside our own Galaxy. Astronomers think that most galaxies - including the Milky Way - contain giant black holes at their cores that are millions of times more massive than the Sun. At a distance of just under 3 million light years from...

2010-03-03 12:25:00

Astronomers have discovered a relic from the early universe - a star that may have been among the second generation of stars to form after the Big Bang. Located in the dwarf galaxy Sculptor some 290,000 light-years away, the star has a remarkably similar chemical make-up to the Milky Way's oldest stars. Its presence supports the theory that our galaxy underwent a "cannibal" phase, growing to its current size by swallowing dwarf galaxies and other galactic building blocks. "This star likely is...

2010-02-03 11:55:00

Astronomers have found the first clear evidence of a binary quasar within a pair of actively merging galaxies. Quasars are the extremely bright centers of galaxies surrounding super-massive black holes, and binary quasars are pairs of quasars bound together by gravity. Binary quasars, like other quasars, are thought to be the product of galaxy mergers. Until now, however, binary quasars have not been seen in galaxies that are unambiguously in the act of merging. But images of a new binary...

2010-01-27 12:44:30

For the first time, astronomers have found a supernova explosion with properties similar to a gamma-ray burst, but without seeing any gamma rays from it. The discovery, using the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, promises, the scientists say, to point the way toward locating many more examples of these mysterious explosions. "We think that radio observations will soon be a more powerful tool for finding this kind of supernova in the nearby Universe than...

2009-12-17 15:15:00

Avatar's Moon Pandora Could Be Real In the new blockbuster Avatar, humans visit the habitable - and inhabited - alien moon called Pandora. Life-bearing moons like Pandora or the Star Wars forest moon of Endor are a staple of science fiction. With NASA's Kepler mission showing the potential to detect Earth-sized objects, habitable moons may soon become science fact. If we find them nearby, a new paper by Smithsonian astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger shows that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)...

2009-12-16 12:30:00

Astronomers announced today that they have discovered a "super-Earth" orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. They found the distant planet with a small fleet of ground-based telescopes no larger than those many amateur astronomers have in their backyards. Although the super-Earth is too hot to sustain life, the discovery shows that current, ground-based technologies are capable of finding almost-Earth-sized planets in warm, life-friendly orbits. The discovery is being published...

2009-12-15 09:55:00

About 550 light-years from Earth, a star like our Sun is writhing in its death throes. Chi Cygni has swollen in size to become a red giant star so large that it would swallow every planet out to Mars in our solar system. Moreover, it has begun to pulse dramatically in and out, beating like a giant heart. New close-up photos of the surface of this distant star show its throbbing motions in unprecedented detail. "This work opens a window onto the fate of our Sun five billion years from now,...

Word of the Day
  • Remarkable; prodigious.
  • Audacious; gutsy.
  • Completely; extremely.
  • Audaciously; boldly.
  • Impressively great in size; enormous; extraordinary.
This word is probably from the dialectal 'boldacious,' a blend of 'bold' and 'audacious.'