Magnetic Mega-Star Discovery Challenges Black Hole Theory

A neutron star with a mighty magnetic field has thrown down the gauntlet to theories about stellar evolution and the birth of black holes, astronomers said today.

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This artist’s impression of a magnetar contains hundreds of very massive stars, some shining with a brilliance of almost one million suns Photo: ESO

The “magnetar” lies in a cluster of stars known as Westerlund 1, located 16,000 light years away in the constellation of Ara, the Altar.

Westerlund 1, discovered in 1961 by a Swedish astronomer, is a favoured observation site in stellar physics. It is one of the biggest cluster of superstars in the Milky Way, comprising hundreds of very massive stars, some shining with a brilliance of almost a million Suns and some two thousand times the Sun’s diameter.

The cluster is also, by the standards of the Universe, very young.

The stars were all born from a single event just three and a half to five million years ago.

Within Westerlund 1 is the remains of one of galaxy’s few magnetars – a particular kind of neutron star, formed from the explosion of a supernova, that can exert a magnetic field a million, billion times strong than Earth’s.

The Westerlund star which eventually became the magnetar must have been at least 40 times the mass of the Sun, according to the study, which appears in the research journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. If so, intriguing questions are raised.

The mainstream assumption is that stars of between 10 and 25 solar masses go on to form neutron stars. But those above 25 solar masses produce black holes — the light-gobbling gravitational monsters that are formed when a massive, dying star collapses in on itself.

In that case, the magnetar’s mother should have become a black hole because it was so big.

But another alternative, say the authors, is that the star “slimmed” to a lower mass, enabling it to become a neutron star.

How did this happen? The answer, says the paper, could lie in a binary system: the star that became the magnetar was born with a stellar companion.

As the stars evolved, they began to interact, and the companion star, like a demonic twin, began to steal mass from the progenitor star.

Eventually the progenitor exploded, becoming a supernova.

Read moreMagnetic Mega-Star Discovery Challenges Black Hole Theory

The Sun Unleashes Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) At Earth

Earlier this morning, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) witnessed a complex magnetic eruption on the sun. The joint NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) — a mission sitting at the L1 point between the Earth and the sun — also spotted a large coronal mass ejection (CME) blasting in the direction of Earth.

It is thought that the SDO and SOHO observations are connected, making this a global magnetic disturbance affecting the whole of the Earth-facing side of the sun.

The eruption happened at around 0855 UT (3:55 am EST), when the SDO detected a C3-class solar flare originating from a cluster of sunspots (called sunspot 1092). This isn’t a large flare, but right at the same time, a filament located about 100,000 kilometers from the flare also erupted.

A “filament” is a long magnetic structure rising high above the surface of the sun filled with cool plasma. Because it is cooler than the sun’s chromosphere, when in the direct line of sight between the Earth and sun, it appears as a dark ribbon snaking across the sun’s disk. If a filament is spotted on the limb of the sun (i.e. on the side), it appears as a bright prominence arcing high into the sun’s atmosphere.

Judging by the timing, the flare and the filament erupted at the same time, suggesting they are connected via long-range magnetic field lines. The resulting shockwave emanating away from the flare site may have had a role to play in accelerating the filament when it hit the filament’s eruption zone.

Watch the video of the eruption as seen by the SDO:

C3events_strip

This sequence of events led to a huge magnetic bubble of plasma being blasted into space. As the eruption was on the Earth-facing side of the sun, the CME is heading right for us — see the SOHO video of the CME. We can expect its arrival on Aug. 3.

Skywatchers will be on high alert that day as when that CME intermingles with the Earth’s magnetosphere, we can expect some intense aurorae around polar regions.

Far from being a frightening event, this morning’s complex solar eruption — including a flare, shockwave, filament eruption and CME — is a testament to the technological ingenuity of the solar scientists and engineers who have designed the powerful solar missions that continually monitor our tumultuous star. Now we know a CME is coming, we can prepare for its arrival.

Read moreThe Sun Unleashes Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) At Earth

Most Massive Star Ever Discovered, 265 Times The Sun’s Mass

Astronomers “really taken aback” by stellar behemoth.

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The most massive star ever found looms behind other young star types in an artist’s impression.

A newfound star has shattered the record as the most massive stellar monster ever seen, astronomers announced today.

Weighing in at a whopping 265 times the mass of our sun, the behemoth may have actually slimmed down since birth, when it likely tipped the scales at 320 times the sun’s mass.

The discovery could rewrite the laws of stellar physics, since it’s long been thought that stars beyond a certain mass would be too unstable to survive.

“We are really taken aback, because up until now the astronomical community at large has assumed that the upper size limit for stars would be around 150” times the mass of the sun, said study co-author Richard Parker, an astronomer at the University of Sheffield in the U.K.

“This giant could really revolutionize the way we think about how stars form and die in clusters and galaxies.”

(Related: “Most Massive Stellar Black Hole Found in Binary System.”)

Most Massive Star to Blow Itself Apart?

Parker’s team found the stellar monster in images taken with the European Southern Observatory‘s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The star is tucked inside a dense cluster of other hot, young, massive stars in one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Read moreMost Massive Star Ever Discovered, 265 Times The Sun’s Mass

Scientists discover water on the moon is widespread, similar to Earth’s

Researchers uncover evidence of water on the inside of the moon

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Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are once again turning what scientists thought they knew about the moon on its head.

Last fall, researchers, including Larry Taylor, a distinguished professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, discovered “lunar dew” on the moon’s surface — absorbed “water” in the uppermost layers of lunar soil. This discovery of water debunked beliefs held since the return of the first Apollo rocks that the moon was bone-dry.

Now, scientists, including Taylor and Yang Liu, research assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, have discovered that water on the moon is more widespread — on the outside and inside of the moon — with some similarities to water in volcanic systems on Earth.

Read moreScientists discover water on the moon is widespread, similar to Earth’s

Japan to Launch Solar-Sail-Powered Spacecraft

Japan will launch the world’s first spacecraft tomorrow drawing its energy from a huge solar-powered sail.

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The craft will be launched aboard an H-IIA rocket before unfurling its ultra-thin membrane ‘sail’ half the thickness of a human hair once it is in space Photo: BLOOMBERG

Ikaros – which stands for Interplanetary Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun – works on the same principle as a yacht, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

It will be launched from the island of Tanegashima aboard an H-IIA rocket before unfurling its ultra-thin membrane “sail” – half the thickness of a human hair – once it is in space.

Solar particles emitted by the sun will hit the 66ft sail to propel it through space towards Venus. Photons bounce off thousands of tiny mirrors to push it through the resistance-free environment.

And as the force acts continuously, a solar sail will eventually be able to reach speeds that are up to ten times greater than any rocket powered by conventional chemicals.

The 307kg craft also has engines that draw their energy from solar cells on the craft and act as a “hybrid” engine, primarily for steering it on its mission.

Yuichi Tsuda, deputy manager for the project, said: “We believe Ikaros will take six months to reach Venus, which we will use to test the craft and its responses, but after that we want it continue to fly for as long and as far as possible.”

Read moreJapan to Launch Solar-Sail-Powered Spacecraft

Mysterious Radio Waves Emitted By Unknown Object From Nearby Galaxy M82

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Something in there is producing an unusually regular radio signal (Image: NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA)

There is something strange in the cosmic neighbourhood. An unknown object in the nearby galaxy M82 has started sending out radio waves, and the emission does not look like anything seen anywhere in the universe before.

“We don’t know what it is,” says co-discoverer Tom Muxlow of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics near Macclesfield, UK.

The thing appeared in May last year, while Muxlow and his colleagues were monitoring an unrelated stellar explosion in M82 using the MERLIN network of radio telescopes in the UK. A bright spot of radio emission emerged over only a few days, quite rapidly in astronomical terms. Since then it has done very little except baffle astrophysicists.

It certainly does not fit the pattern of radio emissions from supernovae: they usually get brighter over a few weeks and then fade away over months, with the spectrum of the radiation changing all the while. The new source has hardly changed in brightness over the course of a year, and its spectrum is steady.

Warp speed

Yet it does seem to be moving – and fast: its apparent sideways velocity is four times the speed of light. Such apparent “superluminal” motion has been seen before in high-speed jets of material squirted out by some black holes. The stuff in these jets is moving towards us at a slight angle and travelling at a fair fraction of the speed of light, and the effects of relativity produce a kind of optical illusion that makes the motion appear superluminal.

Read moreMysterious Radio Waves Emitted By Unknown Object From Nearby Galaxy M82

NASA Scientists Search For ‘Nemesis’ (‘Nibiru’, ‘Planet X’) An Invisible ‘Death Star’ That Circles The Sun

Large ‘Planet X’ May Lurk Beyond Pluto


NASA scientists are searching for an invisible ‘Death Star’ that circles the Sun, which catapults potentially catastrophic comets at the Earth.

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This diagram shows a brown dwarf in relation to Earth, Jupiter, a low-mass star and the sun. Photo: NASA

The star, also known as Nemesis, is five times the size of Jupiter and could be to blame for the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The bombardment of icy missiles is being blamed by some scientists for mass extinctions of life that they say happen every 26 million years.

Nemesis is predicted to lie at a distance equal to 25,000 times that of the Earth from the Sun, or a third of a light-year.

Astronomers believe it is of a type called a red or brown dwarf – a “failed star” that has not managed to generate enough energy to burn like the Sun.

But it should be detectable by a heat-sensitive space telescope called WISE, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer.

Launched last year, WISE began surveying the skies in January. It is expected to discover a 1000 brown dwarfs within 25 light-years of the Sun – right on our cosmic doorstep – before its coolant runs out in October.

Read moreNASA Scientists Search For ‘Nemesis’ (‘Nibiru’, ‘Planet X’) An Invisible ‘Death Star’ That Circles The Sun

Star Trek warp drive is a possibility, say scientists

Two physicists have boldly gone where no reputable scientists should go and devised a new scheme to travel faster than the speed of light.

  • Star Trek technology: The reality
  • A brief history of warp drives
  • Warp Drive – A New Approach [the paper]
  • The advance could mean that Star Trek fantasies of interstellar civilisations and voyages powered by warp drive are now no longer the exclusive domain of science fiction writers.


    The US Starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek series

    In the long running television series created by Gene Roddenberry, the warp drive was invented by Zefram Cochrane, who began his epic project in 2053 in Bozeman, Montana.

    Now Dr Gerald Cleaver, associate professor of physics at Baylor, and Richard Obousy have come up with a new twist on an existing idea to produce a warp drive that they believe can travel faster than the speed of light, without breaking the laws of physics.

    Read moreStar Trek warp drive is a possibility, say scientists

    Bush Pushes for Seed Money for Missiles in Space

    COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) – The Bush administration and Republican allies in Congress are again pushing for seed money to explore options for putting a multibillion-dollar layer of ballistic-missile interceptors in space.

    Last year, the Democratic-controlled Congress rejected the administration’s request for $10 million to resume studies on the idea, first floated in the 1980s as part of then-President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.

    Derided by critics as “Star Wars,” the concept has been embraced by missile-defense backers as potentially more effective than sea- and ground-based parts of an emerging shield against missiles that could be tipped with chemical, germ or nuclear warheads.

    Read moreBush Pushes for Seed Money for Missiles in Space