Sep. 9, 2013 — NASA’s black-hole-hunter spacecraft, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has “bagged” its first 10 supermassive black holes. The mission, which has a mast the length of a school bus, is the first telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures.
The new black-hole finds are the first of hundreds expected from the mission over the next two years. These gargantuan structures — black holes surrounded by thick disks of gas — lie at the hearts of distant galaxies between 0.3 and 11.4 billion light-years from Earth.
“We found the black holes serendipitously,” explained David Alexander, a NuSTAR team member based in the Department of Physics at Durham University in England and lead author of a new study appearing Aug. 20 in The Astrophysical Journal. “We were looking at known targets and spotted the black holes in the background of the images.”
Additional serendipitous finds such as these are expected for the mission. Along with the mission’s more targeted surveys of selected patches of sky, the NuSTAR team plans to comb through hundreds of images taken by the telescope with the goal of finding black holes caught in the background.
By Shaunacy Ferro @ popsci.com
Fourth of July is the perfect time to watch fiery masses streak across the sky. This speedy guy, the comet ISON, looks like it pretty much fits that bill. Except that it’s actually quite icy at its core, and it’s barreling toward the sun at around 48,000 miles per hour, faster than any firework.
This five-second loop of video is a compression of images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope over a period of 43 minutes in May, during which ISON covered 34,000 miles.
Read more: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-07/hubble-catches-comet-ison-hurtling-across-sky
May 30, 2013 — Detailed analysis and review have borne out researchers’ initial interpretation of pebble-containing slabs that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity investigated last year: They are part of an ancient streambed.
The rocks are the first ever found on Mars that contain streambed gravels. The sizes and shapes of the gravels embedded in these conglomerate rocks — from the size of sand particles to the size of golf balls — enabled researchers to calculate the depth and speed of the water that once flowed at this location.
“We completed more rigorous quantification of the outcrops to characterize the size distribution and roundness of the pebbles and sand that make up these conglomerates,” said Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz., lead author of a report about them in the journal Science this week. “We ended up with a calculation in the same range as our initial estimate last fall. At a minimum, the stream was flowing at a speed equivalent to a walking pace — a meter, or three feet, per second — and it was ankle-deep to hip-deep.”
By Clay Dillow Posted 05.24.2013
Apr. 24, 2013 — Researchers have identified a burst of high-energy radiation known as ‘dark lightning” immediately preceding a flash of ordinary lightning. The new finding provides observational evidence that the two phenomena are connected, although the exact nature of the relationship between ordinary bright lightning and the dark variety is still unclear, the scientists said.
“Our results indicate that both these phenomena, dark and bright lightning, are intrinsic processes in the discharge of lightning,” said Nikolai Østgaard, who is a space scientist at the University of Bergen in Norway and led the research team.
He and his collaborators describe their findings in an article recently accepted in Geophysical Research Letters — a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
Dark lightning is a burst of gamma rays produced during thunderstorms by extremely fast moving electrons colliding with air molecules. Researchers refer to such a burst as a terrestrial gamma ray flash.
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity paused its work over the weekend and is chilling in safe mode on Mars, while engineers on Earth try to resolve a computer glitch. The rover switched to a backup computer, but operations are on hiatus while NASA engineers work on the problem.
Last week, engineers noticed a glitch in the flash memory on one of the rover’s two computers. Curiosity had normal communications with Earth on Wednesday, Feb. 27, but like an annoying Facebook friend, it updated its status yet included no actual information. In the status update, engineers learned the rover did not go to sleep when planned, and when they started diagnosing the problem, they realized the main A-side computer had some corrupted files.
Feb. 28, 2013 — NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission has discovered a previously unknown third radiation belt around Earth, revealing the existence of unexpected structures and processes within these hazardous regions of space.
Previous observations of Earth’s Van Allen belts have long documented two distinct regions of trapped radiation surrounding our planet. Particle detection instruments aboard the twin Van Allen Probes, launched Aug. 30, quickly revealed to scientists the existence of this new, transient, third radiation belt.
The belts, named for their discoverer, James Van Allen, are critical regions for modern society, which is dependent on many space-based technologies. The Van Allen belts are affected by solar storms and space weather and can swell dramatically. When this occurs, they can pose dangers to communications and GPS satellites, as well as humans in space.