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Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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2008-08-22 12:45:00

Cambridge, MA - A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope tells a tale of life and death, and reveals a rich family history. The striking infrared picture shows a colorful cosmic cloud, called W5, studded with multiple generations of blazing stars. It also provides dramatic new evidence that massive stars - through their brute winds and radiation - can trigger the birth of stellar newborns. "Triggered star formation continues to be very hard to prove," said Xavier Koenig of the...

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2008-07-09 10:52:35

A detailed survey of stars in the Orion Nebula has found that fewer than 10 percent have enough surrounding dust to make Jupiter-sized planets, according to a report by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Because stars like the sun probably formed in hot open clusters like Orion, the finding suggests that sun-like stars have a low probability of forming planets, or at...

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2008-05-27 15:25:00

On April 9, the Sun erupted and blasted a bubble of hot, ionized gas into the solar system. The eruption was observed in unprecedented detail by a fleet of spacecraft, revealing new features that are predicted by computer models but difficult to see in practice.The observations are being discussed today in a press briefing at the American Geophysical Union Joint Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.Such eruptions, called coronal mass ejections or CMEs, happen periodically and pose a potential...

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2008-02-14 16:05:00

Astronomers have discovered that rocky, terrestrial planets might orbit many, if not most, of the nearby sun-like stars in the disk of our galaxy. These new results suggest that worlds with potential for life are more common that we thought. This release is being issued jointly with the University of Arizona (UA). UA astronomer Michael Meyer (currently on sabbatical at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to determine whether planetary...

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2008-02-11 15:50:00

Newborn stars peek out from beneath their natal blanket of dust in this dynamic image of the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Called "Rho Oph" by astronomers, it's one of the closest star-forming regions to our own solar system. Located near the constellations Scorpius and Ophiuchus, the nebula is about 407 light years away from Earth. Rho Oph is made up of a large main cloud of molecular hydrogen, a key molecule allowing new stars to form out of cold cosmic gas,...

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2008-01-18 21:15:00

170 light-years away from earth exists a particularly puzzling orbiting object. This object, 2M1207B, seems to be physically impossible. Nothing about it matches any established astronomical theory. Eric Mamajek of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced in a press conference, "This is a strange enough object that it needs a strange explanation." During this press conference, the 211th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, astronomers announced that 2M1207B might in...

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2008-01-17 08:34:02

Austin, TX -- Having the sharpest pictures always is a big advantage, and a sophisticated radio-astronomy technique using continent-wide and even intercontinental arrays of telescopes is yielding extremely valuable scientific results in a wide range of specialties. That's the message delivered to the American Astronomical Society's meeting in Austin, Texas, by Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a leading researcher in the field of ultra-precise astronomical position...

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2008-01-16 08:55:00

Our planet is changing before our eyes, and as a result, many species are living on the edge. Yet Earth has been on the edge of habitability from the beginning. New work by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that if Earth had been slightly smaller and less massive, it would not have plate tectonics - the forces that move continents and build mountains. And without plate tectonics, life might never have gained a foothold on our world. "Plate tectonics are...

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2007-12-06 16:11:56

Cambridge, MA - The Sun is minimally active right now, but this quiet state of affairs won't last for long. Over the next few years, the number of solar flares and eruptions known as coronal mass ejections will increase until reaching solar maximum in 2011 or 2012.  Such eruptions can impact Earth, disrupting satellites, communications, and even power grids. Some predict the next solar cycle will be the most intense in 50 years. As a result, scientists are striving to understand the...

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2007-11-01 10:00:00

Cambridge, MA - Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have found that a supernova discovered last year was caused by two colliding white dwarf stars. The white dwarfs were siblings orbiting each other. They slowly spiraled inward until they merged, touching off a titanic explosion. CfA observations show the strongest evidence yet of what was, until now, a purely theoretical mechanism for creating a supernova. "This finding shows that nature may be richer than...