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."
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. — Maggie
“At the dead hour of the night, when the world is hushed in sleep and all is still; when there is not a sound to be heard save the dead beat escapement of the clock, counting with hollow voice the footsteps of time in ceaseless round, I turn to the Ephemeris and find there, by calculations made years ago, that when that clock tells a certain hour, a star which I never saw will be in the field of the telescope for a moment, flit through and then disappear. The instrument is set; the moment approaches and is intently awaited—I look—the star mute with eloquence that gathers sublimity from the silence of the night, comes smiling and dancing into the field, and at the instant predicted even to the fraction of a second, it makes its transit and is gone. With emotions too deep for the organs of speech, the heart swells out with unutterable anthems; we then see that there is harmony in the heavens above; and though we cannot hear, we feel the ‘music of the spheres.’” — Matthew Fontaine Maury, in an 1849 presentation to the Virginia Historical Society. Maury was superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
This is one of the most-famous astronomy photos in the world. Called "The Pillars of Creation" it was taken by the Hubble telescope in 1995 and shows massive columns of hydrogen gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula—7,000 light years from Earth. Part of why these are a big deal is that columns of dust and gas like this are places where stars form.
But here's a cool and/or disappointing detail I hadn't known about until today. Back in 2007, researchers took more images of this region of space using the Spitzer Space Telescope. These shots suggest that the Pillars of Creation might actually be long gone—destroyed thousands of years ago by a nearby supernova.
A striking image from Spitzer shows the intact dust towers next to a giant cloud of hot dust thought to have been scorched by the blast of a star that exploded, or went supernova. Astronomers speculate that the supernova's shock wave could have already reached the dusty towers, causing them to topple about 6,000 years ago.
However, because light from this region takes 7,000 years to reach Earth, we won't be able to capture photos of the destruction for another millenium or so.
This amazing photo was taken by astronaut Don Pettit on board the International Space Stations—of which you can see a chunk at the top of the frame. It's part of a whole series of absolutely stunning photos that you need to go check out as soon as you have a free 20 minutes to spend staring at your monitor and going, "Woah," to yourself over and over.
Here's what Pettit had to say about the process.
“My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, the ‘stack’ them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure.”