<p><img width="700" height="408" src="" class="attachment-single size-single wp-post-image" alt="A bright Eta Aquarid earthgrazer streaks across the northern lights in May 2013. Credit: Bob King" /></p> <p>Itching to watch a meteor shower and don't mind getting up at an early hour? Good because this should be a great year for the annual <a href=""><strong>Eta Aquarid</strong></a> (AY-tuh ah-QWAR-ids) shower which peaks on Thursday and Friday mornings May 5-6. While the shower is best viewed from tropical and southern latitudes, where a single observer might see between 25-40 meteors an hour, northern views won't be too shabby. Expect to see between 10-15 per hour in the hours before dawn.</p> <p>Most showers trace their parentage to a particular comet. The Perseids of August originate from dust strewn along the orbit of comet <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>109P/Swift-Tuttle</strong></a>, which drops by the inner solar system every 133 years after “wintering” for decades just beyond the orbit of Pluto.</p> <p>The upcoming Eta Aquarids  have the best known and arguably most famous parent of all: <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Halley’s Comet</strong></a>. Twice each year, Earth’s orbital path intersects dust and minute rock particles strewn by Halley during its cyclic 76-year journey from just beyond Uranus to within the orbit of Venus.</p> <p>Our first pass through Halley’s remains happens this week, the second in late October during the <a href=""><strong>Orionid meteor shower</strong></a>. Like bugs hitting a windshield, the grains meet their demise when they smash into the atmosphere at 147,000 mph (237,000 km/hr) and fire up for a brief moment as meteors. Most comet grains are only crumb-sized and don't have a chance of reaching the ground as meteorites. To date, not a single meteorite has ever been positively associated with a particular shower.</p> <p>The farther south you live, the higher the shower radiant will appear in the sky and the more meteors you’ll spot.  A low radiant means less sky where meteors might be seen. But it also means visits from "earthgrazers". These are meteors that skim or graze the atmosphere at a shallow angle and take many seconds to cross the sky. Several years back, I saw a couple Eta Aquarid earthgrazers during a very active shower. One other plus this year — no moon to trouble the view, making for ideal conditions especially if you can observe from a dark sky.</p> <p>From mid-northern latitudes the radiant or point in the sky from which the meteors will appear to originate is low in the southeast before dawn. At latitude 50° north the viewing window lasts about 1 1/2 hours before the light of dawn encroaches; at 40° north, it’s a little more than 2 hours. If you live in the southern U.S. you’ll have nearly 3 hours of viewing time with the radiant 35° high.</p> <p>Grab a reclining chair, face east and kick back for an hour or so between 3 and 4:30 a.m. An added bonus this spring season will be hearing the first birdsong as the sky brightens toward the end of your viewing session. And don't forget the sights above: a spectacular Milky Way arching across the southern sky and the planets of Mars and Saturn paired up in the southwestern sky.</p> <p>Meteor shower members can appear in any part of the sky, but if you trace their paths in reverse, they’ll all point back to the radiant. Other random meteors you might see are called sporadics and not related to the Eta Aquarids. Meteor showers take on the name of the constellation from which they originate.</p> <p>Aquarius is home to at least two showers. This one’s called the Eta Aquarids because it emanates from near the star Eta Aquarii. An unrelated shower, the Delta Aquarids, is active in July and early August. Don't sweat it if weather doesn't cooperate the next couple mornings. The shower will be active throughout the weekend, too.</p> <p>Happy viewing and clear skies!</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="">2016 Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower Peaks May 5-6</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="">Universe Today</a>.</p>
<p><img width="700" height="415" src="" class="attachment-single size-single wp-post-image" alt="Data from two experiments at the LHC have independently hinted at the existence of a new type of particle. Image: CMS/LHC/CERN" /></p> <p>Particle physicists are an inquisitive bunch. Their goal is a working, complete model of the particles and forces that make up the Universe, and they pursue that goal with a vigour matched by few other professions.</p> <p>The <a href="">Standard Model of Physics</a> is the result of their efforts, and for 25 years or so, it has guided our thinking and understanding of particle physics. The best tool we have for studying physics further is the <a href="">Large Hadron Collider</a> (LHC), near Geneva, Switzerland. And some recent, intriguing results from the LHC points to the existence of a newly discovered particle.</p> <p>The LHC has four separate detectors. Two of them are "general purpose" detectors, called ATLAS and CMS. Last year, separate experiments in both the ATLAS and CMS detectors produced what is best called a "bump" in their data. Initially, the two teams conducting the experiments were puzzled by the data. But when they compared them, they found that the bumps in their data were the same in both experiments, and they hinted at what could be a new type of particle, never before detected. </p> <p>The two experiments involved smashing protons into each other at near-relativistic speeds. The collisions produced more high-energy photons than theory predicts. Not a lot more, but physics is a detailed endeavour, so even a slight increase in the amount of photons produced is a big deal. In physics, everything happens for a reason.</p> <p>To be more specific, ATLAS and CMS recorded increased activity at an energy level around 750 giga electron-volts (GeV). What that means, for all you non-particle physicists, is that the new particle decays into two photons at the point of the proton-proton collision. If the new particle exists, that is. </p> <p>A new particle would be a huge discovery. The Standard Model has describe all the particles present in nature pretty well. It even predicted the existence of one type of particle, the <a href="">Higgs Boson</a>, long before the LHC actually verified its existence. The discovery of a new type of particle would be very exciting news indeed, and could break the Standard Model. </p> <p>Since this data from the experiments at the LHC was released last year, the physics world has been buzzing. Over 100 papers have been written to try to explain what the results might mean. But some caution is required. </p> <p>The first thing scientists do when faced with results like this is to try to quantify the likelihood that it could be chance. If only one experiment had this bump in its data, then the likelihood that it was just a chance occurrence is pretty high. There are many reasons why an experiment can have a result like this, which is why repeatability is such a big deal in science. But when two independent, separate, experiments have the same result, people's ears perk up.</p> <p>A few months have passed since the experiments were run, and in that time, the experimenters have tried to determine exactly what the likelihood is of these result occurring by chance. After working with the data, a funny thing has happened. The significance of the extra photons detected by CMS has risen, while the significance of the extra photons detected by ATLAS has fallen. This has definitely left physicists scratching their heads. </p> <p>Also in that time, about four main explanations for the experimental results have percolated to the surface. One states that the new particle, if it exists, is made up of smaller particles, similar to how a proton is made up of quarks. These smaller particles could be held together by an unknown force. Some theoretical physicists think this is the best fit with the data.</p> <p>Another possibility is that the new particle is a heavier version of the Higgs Boson. About 12 times heavier. Or it could be that the Higgs Boson itself is made up of smaller particles, and that's what the experiment detected.</p> <p>Or, it could be the much-hypothesized <a href="">graviton</a>, the theoretical particle that carries the gravitational force. The four fundamental forces in the Universe are electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and gravity. So far, we have discovered the particles that transmit all of those forces, except for gravity. If their was a new particle detected, and if it proved to be the graviton, that would be enormous, earth-shattering news. At least for those who are passionate about understanding nature.</p> <p>That's a lot of "ifs" though.</p> <p>There are a lot of holes in our knowledge of the Universe, and physicists are eager to fill those gaps. The discovery of a new particle might very well answer some basic questions about dark matter, dark energy, or even gravity itself. But there's a lot more experimentation to be done before the existence of a new particle can be announced. </p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="">Is A New Particle About To Be Announced?</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="">Universe Today</a>.</p>
<p><img width="700" height="432" src="" class="attachment-single size-single wp-post-image" alt="Artist&#039;s concept of the prototype starshade, a giant structure designed to block the glare of stars so that future space telescopes can take pictures of planets. Credit: NASA/JPL" /></p> <p>For countless generations, people have looked up at the stars and wondered if life exists somewhere out there, perhaps on planets much like ours. But it has only been in recent decades that we have been able to confirm the existence of <a href="">extrasolar planets</a> (aka. exoplanets) in other star systems. In fact, between 1988 and April 20th of 2016, astronomers have been able to account for the existence of 2108 planets in 1350 different star systems, including 511 multiple planetary systems.</p> <p>Most of these discoveries have taken place within just the past three years, thanks to improvements in our detection methods, and the deployment of the Kepler space observatory in 2009. Looking ahead, astronomers hope to improve on these methods even further with the introduction of the <a href="">Starshade</a>, a giant space structure designed to block the glare of stars, thus making it easier to find planets - and perhaps another Earth!</p> <p><span id="more-128664"></span></p> <p class="size-medium wp-image-120226">While some planets have been observed directly with telescopes (a process known as “Direct Imaging”), the vast majority have been detected through indirect methods such as the Transit Method. This method attempts to spot planets as they cross in front of the parent star's disk - during which time there will be a temporary drop in observed brightness - and can also reveal the radius of a planet and sometimes yield information on its atmosphere (with the help of spectrometers).</p> <p></p> <p class="size-medium wp-image-120226">This method remains the most widely-used means of detection and is responsible for more exoplanet discoveries than all other methods combined. However, due to interference from other light sources, it also suffers from a substantial rate of false positives, and generally requires that part of the planet’s orbit intersect a line-of-sight between the host star and Earth.</p> <p>To address this, NASA is developing some key technologies that will help block out light interference so that future astronomers can detect exoplanets more easily. For instruments here on Earth, they are developing coronographs, single instruments that fit inside telescopes to block light. But looking to space, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is also developing the Starshade.</p> <p>This concept calls for a giant, flower-shaped spacecraft that would be launched with one of NASA's next-generation space telescopes. Once deployed, it would fly around in front of the telescope in order to obscure the light of distant stars. This way, the light being reflected off of planets in orbit around them will be detectable, thus making it that much easier to confirm the presence of exoplanets.</p> <p>The project is led by Prof. Jeremy Kasdin of Princeton University, in conjunction with the JPL and support from Northrop Grumman (which leads the mission and system design for Starshade). As Kasdin explained to Universe Today via email:</p> <blockquote><p><em>"The starshade works just like your thumb when trying to block the Sun; it blocks the starlight from entering the telescope but allows light from he planet close by to pass unimpeded.  Since planets are so much dimmer than their host stars, this technology eliminates the problem of glare from the star swamping light from the planet.  And because the starlight never enters the telescope, any conventional telescope can be used; no special attention needs to be paid to stabilities and precision in the telescope." </em></p></blockquote> <p></p> <p>The shade, which is about the  size of a baseball diamond, would be deployed as part a single mission. As the video above shows, the large shade would be mounted at the end of a space telescope - in this case, NASA's upcoming <a href="">Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope</a> (WFIRST) - and then detaches and deploys to a distance of several thousands kilometers in front of it.</p> <p>Such a large shade operating at such a long distance from of its paired telescope is essential when dealing with distant stars."Because stars are so far away the angular distance between the planet and star is quite small," said Kasdin, "requiring a very large starshade (20 to 50 meters in diameter) flying very far from the telescope (up to 50,000 km). Nevertheless, many astronomers believe this is the best technology to detect an Earthlike planet in the near future, a belief aided by the fact that few special requirements are placed on the telescope."</p> <p>Paired with other instruments, like spectrometers, devices like the Starshade will not only allow astronomers to be able to spot planets more easily, but also obtain information about their atmospheres. By studying their chemical compositions - i.e. looking for the presence of oxygen/nitrogen, water vapor, etc. - we would be able to tell with a fair degree of certainty whether or not life exists on them.</p> <p>The Starshade technology is one of the top candidates for a flagship-level mission in the next decade and a top <a href="">Astro2010</a> priority for technology development. In addition to working with WFIRST, it is possible it will be paired with missions like the <a href="">Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)</a> and the <a href="">James Webb Space Telescope</a>.</p> <p>"We are hoping that a starshade capable of Earth detection will be recommended to fly with the upcoming WFIRST mission," Kasdin added, "allowing the first image of an Earth in the next decade."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Further Reading: <a href="">JPL News</a></em></p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="">Starshade Prepares To Image New Earths</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="">Universe Today</a>.</p>
It's 'Star Wars Day' (May the Fourth), and we're wondering whether the planets depicted in 'The Force Awakens' were actually that far from reality.
Mercury will cross the sun's face next Monday (May 9) in a rare "transit" that will be visible from most places on Earth, weather permitting. Read all about the skywatching event here.
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Streaks seen in the slightly-hazy atmosphere of Pluto may arise because of a phenomenon known as gravity waves (not to be mistaken for gravitational waves), created by natural forces pushing on the atmosphere.
The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which is spawned by tiny pieces of the famous Halley's Comet, peaks in the early morning hours on May 5 and May 6.
Some astronomers are now scanning the sky in an attempt to find the newly proposed Planet Nine, while others are tackling another mystery: How did it come to be?
It's "Star Wars" day! This pun-based holiday celebrates the classic space-fantasy franchise. It also means lots and lots of toys.
An avalanche of new research illuminates the strange swirls of light and dark peppering the moon's surface, suggesting that the satellite's weak magnetic field offers a surprisingly strong shield to parts of the lunar crust.
The White House has endorsed a proposal where the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would provide oversight of "non-traditional" commercial space activities, eliminating a policy barrier for proposed missions beyond Earth orbit.
On Monday (May 9), you will have an opportunity to witness one of the rarest astronomical events: a transit of Mercury across the face of the sun. Here's what to expect.
Troy NY (SPX) May 02, 2016<br/> <img src="" hspace=5 vspace=2 align=right border=0 width=160 height=128> Two-dimensional phosphane, a material known as phosphorene, has potential application as a material for semiconducting transistors in ever faster and more powerful computers. But there's a hitch. Many of the useful properties of this material, like its ability to conduct electrons, are anisotropic, meaning they vary depending on the orientation of the crystal. Now, a team including researc


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