SpaceJibe

January 28, 2015

‘Super Saturn’ with rings 200 times as large

Filed under: Cool, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 12:49 pm
Illustration by artist Ron Miller of the gigantic ring system around J1407b.

Illustration by artist Ron Miller of the gigantic ring system around J1407b.

In 1610, after he built his telescope, Galileo Galilei first spotted enormous Saturn’s gigantic rings. More than 400 years later, astronomers have in a sense dwarfed that discovery with a similar first.

Using powerful optics, they have found a much larger planet-like body, J1407b, with rings 200 times the size of Saturn’s, U.S. and Dutch astronomers said.

It lies some 400 light-years away from Earth.

For decades, scientists have believed that many moons around large planets formed out of such ring systems. But this is the first one astronomers have observed aside from Saturn’s, they said.

It was discovered in 2012, but a detailed analysis of its data was recently completed and published.

Dominating the sky

How this new Super Saturn would look in our own sky.

How this new Super Saturn would look in our own sky.

If J1407b were in our solar system, it would dominate Earth’s nightly sky.

“If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon,” said Matthew Kenworthy from the Netherlands’ Leiden Observatory.

Unlike Galileo peering a relatively short distance through his simple telescope, today’s astronomers can’t eyeball the rings hundreds of light-years away.

But using two very powerful optical devices with eight cameras each, they can observe the effect the rings have as they pass across nearby star J1407 — written without a ‘b’ at the end.

It is similar to our sun. The rings of planet J1407b eclipse its light.

56-day eclipse

With the enormous size of the rings, the eclipse the astronomers observed lasted 56 days.

But the star did not go completely dark for nearly two months. Some of J1407b’s 30 rings are denser, blocking more light, and some of them are less dense, letting more light through.

And there are gaps between the rings, leading the scientists to theorize that “exomoons” have formed and cut clean orbits through the debris, like the moons around Saturn.

Our own solar system’s ringed giant has at least 60 moons, according to NASA.

Bigger than a planet

Like its system of rings, planet J1407b is also much larger than Saturn, said astrophysicist Eric Mamajek, whose team at the University of Rochester discovered the object. “You could think of it as kind of a super Saturn.”

It is called a brown dwarf, a size classification somewhere between a planet and a star, according to the California Institute of Technology.

Brown dwarfs are hot but don’t burst into nuclear fusion the way stars do, so they don’t give off light.

The scientists are calling on amateur astronomers to keep an eye on star J1407 in hopes they may observe the rings eclipsing it again and report the results to the American Association of Variable Star Observers, which collects astronomical data on “stars that change in brightness.”

And astronomers will also search for more such ringed systems.

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January 11, 2015

NASA stuns with new image of ‘Pillars of Creation’

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Exoplanets, Gadgets — bferrari @ 8:11 pm

New “Pillars of Creation” Hubble photo. (NASA)

(CNN)NASA has come out with a new image that could become one of its most iconic ever.

The Hubble Space Telescope revisited the so-called “Pillars of Creation,” which the space agency describes as “three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.”

The previous photo of these pillars, taken in 1995, went on to stand out from all the rest of NASA’s space images, the agency said. “The Hubble image is so popular that it has appeared in movies and television shows, on T-shirts and pillows, and even on a postage stamp.”

The old and new images, side by side

 The old and new images, side by side

In celebration of the telescope’s upcoming 25th anniversary in April, Hubble returned to the pillars — and this time with the latest high-definition tools.

The new sharper and wider image was taken “in near-infrared light, as well as visible light,” NASA said. “The infrared view transforms the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes seen against a background of myriad stars. That’s because the infrared light penetrates much of the gas and dust, except for the densest regions of the pillars. Newborn stars can be seen hidden away inside the pillars.”

In 1995, the captured image gave insight into star formation. “Nebulous star-forming regions like M16 are the interstellar neon signs that say, ‘We just made a bunch of massive stars here,'” said Paul Scowen of Arizona State University, who helped lead the original observations, in a post on NASA’s website.

The new image “hints” that these columns “are also pillars of destruction,” NASA said.

“The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space,” said Scowen. “We have caught these pillars at a very unique and short-lived moment in their evolution.”

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