Many Worlds 15 Jun 2018, 16:20 UTC Just as the number of planets discovered outside our solar system is large and growing — more than 3,700 confirmed at last count — so too is the number of ingenious ways to find exoplanets ever on the rise. The first exoplanets were found by measuring the “wobble” in their host stars caused by the gravitational pull of the planets, then came the transit technique that measured dips in the light from stars as planets passed in front of them, followed by the direct imaging of moving objects deemed to be planets, and numerous more. A new technique can now be added to the toolkit, one that is useful only in specific galactic circumstances but is nonetheless ingenious and intriguing.
Astronomy Now 15 Jun 2018, 14:31 UTC Wolf-Rayet stars are massive, high-energy suns near the end of their lives, pumping out thick, fast-moving stellar winds that can create vast bubbles in space as they ram into the cooler interstellar medium. Shockwaves heat up any gas in the region, occasionally to temperatures high enough to produce X-rays. But it is a relatively rare phenomenon, and only three such Wolf-Rayet stars have been found. This one, WR18, has extremely powerful winds, and once it exhausts its nuclear fuel it likely will explode in a supernova blast. This image was captured by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope. Hot X-ray emitting gas is shown in blue with yellow-green oxygen and red sulphur emissions are seen in optical wavelengths.
NASA Space Station Blog 14 Jun 2018, 19:01 UTC Expedition 56 Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold of NASA completed the sixth spacewalk at the International Space Station this year at 2:55 p.m. EDT, lasting 6 hours, 49 minutes. The two astronauts installed new high-definition cameras that will provide enhanced views during the final phase of approach and docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner commercial crew spacecraft that will soon begin launching from American soil.
Starts With a Bang! 14 Jun 2018, 14:01 UTC It’s one of the most brilliant, controversial and unproven ideas in all of physics: string theory. At the heart of string theory is the thread of an idea that’s run through physics for centuries, that at some fundamental level, all the different forces, particles, interactions and manifestations of reality are tied together as part of the same framework. Instead of four independent fundamental forces — strong, electromagnetic, weak and gravitational — there’s one unified theory that encompasses all of them.
ESO Announcements 14 Jun 2018, 10:00 UTC ESO is proud to announce the release of Europe to the Stars, a brand new open-source planetarium show that tells the story of ESO’s exploration of the southern sky. This stunning movie takes viewers on an epic journey behind the scenes of the most productive ground-based observatory in the world. Europe to the Stars will be part of the programme at the ESO Supernova from Friday 22 June and is also available to download for free from the ESO website.
Sky and Telescope 13 Jun 2018, 20:25 UTC NASA's Dawn spacecraft is getting closer to Ceres than ever before. This comes as a climax to an amazing 11-year mission, whose goals have included exploring the biggest asteroid, and the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system.
Centauri Dreams 13 Jun 2018, 16:36 UTC Some 4 million years old, the star HD 163296 is about 330 light years out in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. When dealing with stars this young, astronomers have had success with data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), teasing out features in protoplanetary disks filled with gas and dust, the breeding ground of new planets. As seen below, the ALMA imagery can be striking, a closeup look at a stellar system in formation.
Sky and Telescope 13 Jun 2018, 13:00 UTC A few months ago, Sky & Telescope reported on a study of a nearby star-forming region (30 Doradus) forming an unexpected number of massive stars. The region might even contain stars with up to 300 times the mass of the Sun — but that wasn’t the real surprise. Astronomers had thought that the same basic processes ought to shape star formation no matter where it happens, resulting in the same relative numbers of stars everywhere. If that turned out not to be true — and 30 Doradus seemed to be proving the exception — then astronomers would have to rethink everything, from how they classify galaxies to how quickly the universe formed its stars.
Scientific American 13 Jun 2018, 12:00 UTC Much has been written about the Anthropocene—a proposed new division of geologic time in which humans are a dominant force for planetary change: When did it begin? How might it unfold? And can we, the supposed masters of Earth, actually use our powers to make our planet a better place? Understandably, most of the Anthropocene’s literature to date both in the popular press and peer-reviewed publications has been decidedly Earth-centric. But in a recent series of papers and a new book, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, the astrophysicist Adam Frank argues the Anthropocene’s origins and implications are best understood in the context of astrobiology, the study of life in the universe. The climate change and other environmental effects associated with humankind’s global ascendance, he says, are likely to be universal phenomena manifest for any and every technological civilization that emerges somewhere in the cosmos. Which means the most crucial insights governing the Anthropocene may come less from studying the ground beneath our feet and more from turning our gaze to the heavens.