This indistinct blob is supermassive star Betelgeuse

Imaged by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), this is the most detailed depiction yet of the enormous supergiant Betelgeuse, 600 light-years off in the constellation Orion and 1400 times the size of the sun.

The star is just about eight million years old, but is already on the verge of becoming a supernova. When that happens, the resulting explosion will be visible from Earth, even in broad daylight.

The star has been observed in many other wavelengths, particularly in the visible, infrared, and ultraviolet. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope astronomers discovered a vast plume of gas almost as large as our Solar System. Astronomers have also found a gigantic bubble that boils away on Betelgeuse’s surface. These features help to explain how the star is shedding gas and dust at tremendous rates (eso0927, eso1121). In this picture, ALMA observes the hot gas of the lower chromosphere of Betelgeuse at sub-millimeter wavelengths — where localised increased temperatures explain why it is not symmetric. Scientifically, ALMA can help us to understand the extended atmospheres of these hot, blazing stars.

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Photography: These starscapes may inspire a move to Finland

Finnish photographer Oscar Keserci braved brutal temperatures in and around Kirkkonummi, Finland for his breathtaking Blue Night series of photos.

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Hubble releases shimmering image of a youthful globular cluster

Recent revised estimates upping the number of galaxies in the universe seem even more mind-boggling when contemplating this image released from Hubble this week. It shows NGC 362, one of about 150 globular clusters on the outskirts of just one galaxy, our own Milky Way. Read the rest

Alien "megastructure" mystery deepens, but probably isn't a Dyson sphere

KIC 8462862, a distant star, flickers erratically. Among the possibilities: occlusion by an alien "megastructure" surrounding it in space.

Though it sounds far-fetched, and there's no other evidence of intelligence emanating from the system, the flickering's gotten weirder. The star's total output has diminished continuously over the course of four years.

Jason Wright, the Penn State astronomer who first suggested that Tabby’s Star might be the site of a vast alien construction project, agreed that the new analysis lends credibility to Schaefer’s claim of century-long dimming. “The new paper states, and I agree, that we don’t have any really good models for this sort of behavior,” he said. “That’s exciting!”

Keivan Stassun, an astronomer at Vanderbilt who disputed the idea of long-term dimming, said that Tabby’s star continues to defy explanation. “[Montet’s] intriguing new findings suggest that none of the considered phenomena can alone explain the observations,” he told Gizmodo. “In the end, figuring out this puzzle may require accounting for a combination of effects.”

Or, they just decided to get the Dyson sphere finished ahead of schedule.

Photo from how to light objects from the inside, by Lightism. Read the rest

Look up in the sky! Eta Aquarids meteor shower expected to peak through May 6

For amateur astronomers, tonight is an exciting night.

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Backyard astronomer discovered 300 asteroids so far

Meet maker Gary Hug who built his own home observatory, including a DIY reflector telescope, and discovered more than 300 asteroids.

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Astronomers unofficially designate a David Bowie "constellation"

Studio Brussels asked astronomers at Belgium's MIRA Public Observatory to select stars that would make a fitting asterism in memory of David Bowie. (Of course, only the International Astronomical Union can officially name stars and other astronomical objects, and it's almost always with a number.)

In any case, this effort was tied to the "Stardust for Bowie" annotation project for Google Sky. There is also an unrelated Change.org petition to "Rename planet Mars after David Bowie."

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Hubble captures shimmering, luminous Twin Jet Nebula

Bipolar planetary nebulae occur when a twin star system lies at the center, forming beautiful wing-like symmetrical lobes. The Hubble team estimates this translucent beauty occurred only 1200 years ago. Read the rest

Landscape astrophotography highlights stars in stunning locales

This gorgeous vertical starscape taken near Death Valley by f1p4 is one of many examples of Reddit's landscape astrophotography group. Earthporn meets starporn! Read the rest

Awesome 5-star solar system with two contacting pairs found

Will you live long enough to watch the setting suns?

"This is a truly exotic star system. In principle there's no reason why it couldn't have planets in orbit around each of the pairs of stars. Any inhabitants would have a sky that would put the makers of Star Wars to shame," Dr Lohr said. "There could sometimes be no fewer than five Suns of different brightnesses lighting up the landscape."

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A starry night sky, from the Boing Boing Flickr Pool

"All in a Row," a lovely night shot by Diablo_119 of Tacoma, WA, shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool.

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Violent birth of a star, as seen from NASA Hubble Space Telescope

An image released from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows IRAS 14568-6304, a young star shrouded in golden gas and dust.

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A view of the stars — anytime, anywhere

Never Ending Night is a project aimed at making a live feed of the starry night sky available online 24 hours a day. It's art — imagine a world where everyone can see the same patch of sky from the same perspective — influenced and facilitated by science. And you can help fund it. Read the rest

Could flickering stars be messages from ET?

Could the flickering and winking of some stars be a kind of Morse Code that extraterrestrials are using to communicate across space? Princeton University astrophysicist Lucianne Walkowicz and her colleagues are exploring that very question. Her team is using algorithms to sift data from the space observatory Kepler for flickering patterns that don't appear to be the result of passing planets, sunspots, eclipses, or other known reasons. “What would lead us to say it really is an alien signal?” she asks. “I don’t know, but in my book, finding things you can’t explain is interesting no matter what it is."

And just to be clear, this has nothing to do with the star twinkling that we see, which is caused by atmospheric turbulence on Earth. Or so they'd like us to think. "Flickering Stars: Could Aliens Be Sending Us Signals?" (Thanks, Jake Dunagan!) Read the rest

We are all star stuff

How scientists study the fossils of ancient bacteria to find clues to a 2.6-million-year-old supernovae. Jennifer Ouellette explains how the the bacteria incorporated elements from an exploding star into their bodies, and how those elements can still be found today. Read the rest

Orionids in Aspen

"Orionid Meteors over Aspen Highlands and Pyramid Peak," by Thomas O'Brien, shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool. About the photo, Thomas explains:
12 shots stacked into one frame. I shot 750 images and ended up with 35 photos with meteors in them but only used 12 since the rest were very faint.
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Cosmically speaking, we are over the hill

This entire universe is nearing the point where it's time to throw it a party full of black balloons and cheap Grim Reaper decorations, according to recent research by an international team of astronomers. They studied the rate at which stars are born and found that that rate is declining. In fact, most of the stars that will ever exist already do. We're only likely to increase the total by about 5% between now and the end of everything. So, you know. Have a great rest of your day. Read the rest

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