Scientists are planning to use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to observe next month’s historic transit of Venus across the sun’s face.
But there’s a twist. Researchers can’t point Hubble anywhere near the sun, because our star’s bright light could damage the telescope’s super-sensitive instruments. So Hubble will watch the June 5-6Venus transit by using the moon as a mirror.
Imaged Above: Michael Wilce of Central London, UK took 20 composite shots to create this image of Venus transit on June 8, 2004. CREDIT: Michael Wilce
Four dead planetary systems, each lit by the burned-out core of a star that once resembled the sun, provide a harrowing forecast for Earth’s eventual demise.
Astronomers used the space-based Hubble telescope to probe the chemical signatures of dusty disks encircling the four star systems. In each they found a surprising abundance of elements that make up about 93 percent of Earth’s mass.
“What we are seeing today in these white dwarfs several hundred light years away could well be a snapshot of the very distant future of the Earth,” said Boris Gänsicke, an astrophysicist at the University of Warwick, in a press release.
Images: Three panels illustrate the death sequence of a planetary system. Four terrestrial planets orbit a sun-like star (top); the host star turns into a red giant and mixes up planetary orbits, causing them to collide (middle); dusty debris and asteroid-like objects are all that remains around the star, now a white dwarf (bottom). (Copyright of Mark A. Garlick/University of Warwick) [high resolution]
1. RINGS FROM AFAR
Measuring 175,000 miles wide but as little as 30 feet thick, Saturn’s rings contain debris of varying ages and composition, all revolving at different speeds.
2. THREE MOONS
Titan and Dione, along with speck-sized Prometheus appear in rare alignment. Tiny so-called shepherd moons help shape the rings and prevent them from dispersing.
Concentric rings wind in front of Satrun’s biggest moon, Titan, with tiny Janus in teh foreground. The rings are so massive that they have their own atmosphere, separate from Saturn’s. Cassini found evidence of oxygen all around the icy rings.
4. RINGS CLOSE UP
Into the Sword of Orion
Distance: 1500 Light Years
Image Copyright Robert Gendler 2006
The region of Orion and Monoceros has unique importance as one of the great regions of active star formation in our galaxy.
Its proximity and favorable position in the sky have made this one of the most extensively studied regions in the Milky Way.
Sifting through Dust near Orion’s Belt
A new image of the region surrounding the reflection nebula Messier 78, just to the north of Orion’s Belt, shows clouds of cosmic dust threaded through the nebula like a string of pearls. The observations, made with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, use the heat glow of interstellar dust grains to show astronomers where new stars are being formed.
Triton Dramatic Fade
The above picture of Triton, Neptune’s moon was taken in 1989 by the only spacecraft ever to pass Triton: Voyager 2. Voyager 2 found fascinating terrain, a thin atmosphere, and even evidence for ice volcanoes on this world of peculiar orbit and spin. Ironically, Voyager 2 also confirmed the existence of complete thin rings around Neptune.
The most spectacular photograph of last weekend’s Lyrid meteor shower
Last weekend’s dark, moonless nights made for some of the best meteor-spotting conditions in close to a year — conditions astrophotographer Brad Goldpaint had planned to take full advantage of, had it not been for Oregon’s crummy weekend weather. He claims to have spotted just one meteor the entire night, but if the photograph up top is any indication [click here for higher res], it was definitely worth the wait. Besides, I’d imagine it’s pretty hard to be bummed about a lack of meteor activity when your default backdrop is an absurdly beautiful view of the Milky Way. [Brad Goldpaint via Bad Astronomy]
Black holes get fat on tasty, tasty stars
We already know that black holes swallow stars — and entire solar systems — but what effect does a stellar diet have on black holes? A new study suggests that eating stars is what turns baby black holes into supermassive black holes.
Dusty stellar nurseries from the dark side of a galaxy
The red colors in this image show the galaxy M66 as it appears at the submillimeter wavelength of 850 microns, while the white background shows the galaxy as it appears in visible light. Regions of cold dust that appear as dark streaks in the white image glow brightly in the red image. The center of the galaxy contains much more dust than is obvious from looking at the visible image, and the submillimeter image also picks out an unusual compact cloud in the southern part of the galaxy that is a prime site for future star formation.
Credit: VLT/ESO, JAC, G. Bendo
Composite of three raw CB3 filtered images taken by the Cassini spacecraft on December 15, 2011 from a distance of 1 million km. To make the image, the three raws were resized 5x blended by averaging, and obvious defects (3 spots in a row) clone stamped out. Contrast adjustment and resizing was also done.
The dark dune sand sea of Belet is visible in this image. To the right, the bright terrain known as Adiri appears as a bright splotch surrounded by the narrow dune sea of Ching-Tu to the S and Shangri-La to the N and E. At the extreme eastern end of Adiri, near the terminator at left, is the Huygens landing site. North is approximately at top in this image.
Image credits: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Mike Malaska
Transit of Mercury across the sun
Because of its close proximity to the sun, Mercury is often lost in the glare and is usually best seen from Earth only when there is a solar eclipse. From the Northern Hemisphere, you can sometimes see it at dawn or twilight. Here Mercury crosses the sun in 2006. Mercury is the small black dotin the lower middle of the sun. The sunspot on the extreme left of the star is actually bigger than the planet.