Friday, April 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Hubble

17 years ago, April 25, 1990, mankind made its giant leap. The one that Neil Armstrong promised. The shuttle birthed Hubble into orbit and the grand journey known as Hubble began. Each year at this time, NASA rewards us with a sensational picture and we eat it up the way hungry dogs ingest a treat. Hubble huggers unite. Details on the pic follow. Mahalo.


In celebration of the 17th anniversary of the launch and deployment of
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers is releasing one of
the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble's cameras. It is a
50-light-year-wide view of the central region of the Carina Nebula where
a maelstrom of star birth - and death - is taking place.

Hubble's view of the nebula shows star birth in a new level of detail.
The fantasy-like landscape of the nebula is sculpted by the action of
outflowing winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation from the monster
stars that inhabit this inferno. In the process, these stars are
shredding the surrounding material that is the last vestige of the giant
cloud from which the stars were born.

The immense nebula contains at least a dozen brilliant stars that are
roughly estimated to be at least 50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun.
The most unique and opulent inhabitant is the star Eta Carinae, at far
left. Eta Carinae is in the final stages of its brief and eruptive
lifespan, as evidenced by two billowing lobes of gas and dust that
presage its upcoming explosion as a titanic supernova.

The fireworks in the Carina region started three million years ago when
the nebula's first generation of newborn stars condensed and ignited in
the middle of a huge cloud of cold molecular hydrogen. Radiation from
these stars carved out an expanding bubble of hot gas. The island-like
clumps of dark clouds scattered across the nebula are nodules of dust
and gas that are resisting being eaten away by photoionization.

The hurricane blast of stellar winds and blistering ultraviolet
radiation within the cavity is now compressing the surrounding walls of
cold hydrogen. This is triggering a second stage of new star formation.

Our Sun and our solar system may have been born inside such a cosmic
crucible 4.6 billion years ago. In looking at the Carina Nebula we are
seeing the genesis of star making as it commonly occurs along the dense
spiral arms of a galaxy.

The immense nebula is an estimated 7,500 light-years away in the
southern constellation Carina the Keel (of the old southern
constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts, from
Greek mythology).

This image is a mosaic of the Carina Nebula assembled from 48 frames
taken with Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The
Hubble images were taken in the light of neutral hydrogen. Color
information was added with data taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American
Observatory in Chile. Red corresponds to sulfur, green to hydrogen,
and blue to oxygen emission.

Credit for Hubble image: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California,
Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Credit for CTIO image: N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley) and

For images, videos, additional information about the Carina Nebula, and
Hubble 17th anniversary content visit:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Earth-like, sans-smog

OK Hubble Huggers, I'm back, feeling better about blogs than I ever have. Yeah, it's disposable information, but why not share stuff that's cool, right? RIGHT? Is anyone even listening? Forget what I said, blogs suck. But regardless, here's some great news from the universe, I'll be posting more releases as I get them. When you want information, make it primary source baby, all the way. Yours in the stars, David

Astronomers Find First Habitable Earth-like Planet

Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our
Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and possibly having liquid water on its surface. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the
Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-
mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the
presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses.

This exoplanet - as astronomers call planets around a star other than
the Sun – is the smallest ever found up to now [1] and it completes
a full orbit in 13 days. It is 14 times closer to its star than the
Earth is from the Sun. However, given that its host star, the red
dwarf Gliese 581 [2], is smaller and colder than the Sun – and thus
less luminous – the planet nevertheless lies in the habitable zone,
the region around a star where water could be liquid!

“We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth
lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be
liquid,” explains Stéphane Udry, from the Geneva Observatory
(Switzerland) and lead-author of the paper reporting the result.
“Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth’s radius,
and models predict that the planet should be either rocky – like our
Earth – or covered with oceans,” he adds.

This research is reported in a paper submitted as a Letter to the
Editor of Astronomy and Astrophysics (“The HARPS search for southern
extra-solar planets : XI. An habitable super-Earth (5 MEarth) in a 3-
planet system”, by S. Udry et al.)

The team is composed of Stéphane Udry, Michel Mayor, Christophe
Lovis, Francesco Pepe, and Didier Queloz (Geneva Observatory,
Switzerland), Xavier Bonfils (Lisbonne Observatory, Portugal), Xavier
Delfosse, Thierry Forveille, and C.Perrier (LAOG, Grenoble, France),
François Bouchy (Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, France), and Jean-
Luc Bertaux (Service d'Aéronomie du CNRS, France)