Heavens

PASADENA, Calif.--Bars abound in spiral galaxies today, but this was not always the case. A group of 16 astronomers, led by Kartik Sheth of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, has found that bars tripled in number over the past seven billion years, indicating that spiral galaxies evolve in shape.

A team of European scientists working with COROT have discovered an exoplanet orbiting a star slightly more massive than the Sun. After just 555 days in orbit, the mission has now observed more than 50 000 stars and is adding significantly to our knowledge of the fundamental workings of stars.

The latest discovery, COROT-exo-4b is an exoplanet of about the same size as Jupiter. It takes 9.2 days to orbit its star, the longest period for any transiting exoplanet ever found.

A European-led team of astronomers are providing hints that a recent supernova may not be as normal as initially thought.

Instead, the star that exploded is now understood to have collapsed into a black hole, producing a weak jet, typical of much more violent events, the so-called gamma-ray bursts.

The object, SN 2008D, is thus probably among the weakest explosions that produce very fast moving jets. This discovery represents a crucial milestone in the understanding of the most violent phenomena observed in the Universe.

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, and its remarkable acuity, astronomers were able for the first time to witness the appearance of a shell of dusty gas around a star that had just erupted, and follow its evolution for more than 100 days. This provides the astronomers with a new way to estimate the distance of this object and obtain invaluable information on the operating mode of stellar vampires, dense stars that suck material from a companion.

By using the gravitational magnification from six massive lensing galaxy clusters, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided scientists with the largest sample of very distant galaxies seen to date. Some of the newly found magnified objects are dimmer than the faintest ones seen in the legendary Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which is usually considered the deepest image of the Universe.

For the first time astronomers have found a way to get a clean view of the elusive disks of matter surrounding supermassive black holes. By using a polarising filter on the Science and Technology Facility Council's UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, they have been able to see through the clouds of dust which surround these black holes. This work is published on 24th July 2008 in Nature.

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) - For the first time, a team of international researchers has found a way to view the accretion disks surrounding black holes and verify that their true electromagnetic spectra match what astronomers have long predicted they would be. Their work will be published in the July 24 issue of the science journal Nature.

The first robotic mission to return samples to Earth from Mars took a further step toward realisation with the recent publication of a mission design report by the iMARS Working Group. The report, defines key elements of the future internationally-funded mission involving the cooperation of ESA, NASA and other national agencies.

ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang from Sweden has been assigned as a Mission Specialist on board the 11-day STS-128 mission, currently scheduled for launch with Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS) on 30 July 2009.

Irvine, Calif., July 16, 2008 — How do you weigh the biggest black holes in the universe? One answer now comes from a new and independent technique that UC Irvine scientists and other astronomers have developed using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

By measuring a peak in the temperature of hot gas in the center of the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4649, scientists have determined the mass of the galaxy's supermassive black hole. The method, applied for the first time, gives results that are consistent with a traditional technique.

How do you weigh the biggest black holes in the universe? One answer now comes from a completely new and independent technique that astronomers have developed using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

By measuring a peak in the temperature of hot gas in the center of the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4649, scientists have determined the mass of the galaxy's supermassive black hole. The method, applied for the first time, gives results that are consistent with a traditional technique.

The sun is about to undergo unremitting scrutiny. About six times each minute of every hour for at least five years, a soon-to-be launched NASA satellite will measure the sun's quirky—and sometimes stormy—output of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light. To ensure that this solar stake-out yields data useful for understanding the weather in space and its earthly consequences, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are helping a NASA team prepare for annual rocket-borne check-ups of key instruments aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

Two University of Iowa space physicists report that the Voyager 2 spacecraft, which has been traveling outward from the Sun for 31 years, has made the first direct observations of the solar wind termination shock, according to a paper published in the July 3 issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers at McGill University's Department of Physics – along with colleagues from several countries – have confirmed a long-held prediction of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, via observations of a binary-pulsar star system. Their results will be published July 3 in the journal Science.

Taking advantage of a unique cosmic coincidence, astronomers have measured an effect predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity in the extremely strong gravity of a pair of superdense neutron stars. The new data indicate that the famed physicist's 93-year-old theory has passed yet another test.