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More success for Herschel July 11, 2009

Posted by Sarah in new astronomy, pics, science, space.
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After the early sneak preview from the PACS instrument on board the recently launched Herschel infrared space telescope, more images have now been released from its other instruments, SPIRE and HIFI. The above image shows images taken with the IR imager and spectrometer SPIRE of nearby galaxy M74 at 250 micron. The amount of detail visible in the images is really great, particularly as all the image reconstruction software hasn’t even been optimised yet. We may be very used to seeing spectacularly detailed images from Hubble, but achieving these resolutions at Herschel’s far-infrared wavelengths is very new. (more…)

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Stellar Citizen Science June 23, 2009

Posted by Sarah in astro 2.0, new astronomy.
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Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Over at Professor Astronomy, Kurtis recently talked about an excellent citizen science project to light on the nature of mysterious variable star epsilon Aurigae. For almost 200 years, this run-of-the-mill star has been seen to dim periodically. This is not particularly remarkable in se – many stars dim at regular intervals, typically every few days, due to a companion star or planet passing in front of it. But in the case of epsilon Aurigae, the dip in its lightcurve occurs every 27 years and lasts several hundred days – around 2 years! The eclipse lightcurve (above) also shows that the dip contains quite a few bumps. So whatever movement is causing the eclipse is very very slow, and some interaction between the two bodies appears to be going on.  (more…)

First light for Herschel June 21, 2009

Posted by Sarah in new astronomy, science, space.
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M51_final_color

Doesn’t it seem like yesterday, that exciting day when two new astronomy satellites were blasted into space? There was Herschel, at 3.5-m the largest telescope ever launched into space, and Planck, the new cosmic miscrowave background explorer. We cheered, drank some champagne and settled into the wait until the data started coming in. Well, that day has arrived. This week ESA and the participating institutes released an early first light image from PACS, the Photodetector and Array Camera and Spectrometer, on board Herschel, taken during the telescope’s commissioning phase.

A big congrats to the Herschel telescope and instrument teams!

Update 11/07/09: Watch a video of the Herschel/PACS team as they receive the beautiful picture of M51 from the telescope, here. Great stuff!

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Waxing lyrical about exoplanets May 28, 2009

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This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first published astronomical observations with a telescope, by Galileo Galilei. Galilei used his telescope to observe the changing phases of Venus and reveal the true configuration of the Solar System. Now, exactly four centuries later, CoRoT observations have shown the changing phases of an extrasolar planet for the first time in optical light.

Blimey, is that a Nature-worthy cheesy quote or what?! And …. that’s exactly what it is*. (more…)

Lightest exoplanet discovered April 22, 2009

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ESO yesterday reported the discovery of the lightest exoplanet yet. Gliese 581e, the fourth in a family of exolanets around Gliese 581, is just twice as massive as the Earth, which means it could well be rocky rather than gassy like Jupiter or Saturn. The discovery was made by a team of Swiss an French astronomers led by Michel Mayor of Geneva Observatory, who discovered of the first ever exoplanet in 1995, using ESO’s 3.6m telescope at La Silla, Chile.

But Mayor and his team added a cherry to ESO’s cake. Further study of the orbit of Gliese 581d, one of the new planet’s known siblings, has shown that the planet lies well within the host star’s so-called Habitable Zone, where the existence of liquid water is thought to be possible (though that doesn’t mean that it does!).

Nice work!

Image credit: M. House, F. Kamphues (top)