Newfound Comet Will Swing By Earth in 2013

Discovery image of the newfound comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), taken by Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope

A newfound comet discovered by a telescope designed to hunt for dangerous asteroids will make its closest pass by Earth in 2013 and should be visible to the naked eye when it draws near, astronomers say.
Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope detected the comet, which is called C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), on the night of June 5 and 6, and the discovery was confirmed by follow-up observations with a different instrument a day later. The comet will likely come within about 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of the sun in February or March 2013 — about the same distance as the planet Mercury, researchers said.
During its closest approach to Earth in two years, comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) likely to be visible low in the western sky shortly after sunset, weather permitting. Skywatchers interested in seeing the newfound icy wanderer should look up then, because they may never get another chance to see it. [Photo of comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)]
The comet has an orbit that is close to parabolic, meaning that this may be the first time it will ever come close to the sun, and that it may never return,” said the University of Hawaii’s Richard Wainscoat in a statement. Wainscoat helped confirm the comet’s existence.
Right now, C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) is about 700 million miles (1.2 billion km) from the sun, placing it beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It is currently so faint that only telescopes with sensitive electronic detectors can pick it up.
The comet’s clunky moniker is slightly unusual. Comets are usually named after their discoverers, but in this case such a large team of researchers helped spot the icy wanderer that it took the name of the telescope instead….. Continue reading Newfound Comet Will Swing By Earth in 2013

New Supernova Remnant Lights Up

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are witnessing the unprecedented transition of a supernova to a supernova remnant, where light from an exploding star in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, reached Earth in February 1987. Named Supernova 1987A, it was the closest supernova explosion witnessed in almost 400 years. The supernova’s close proximity to Earth has allowed astronomers to study it in detail as it evolves. Now, the supernova debris, which has faded over the years, is brightening. This means that a different power source has begun to light the debris. The debris of SN 1987A is beginning to impact the surrounding ring, creating powerful shock waves that generate X-rays observed with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Those X-rays are illuminating the supernova debris and shock heating is making it glow in visible light. The results are being reported in today’s issue of the journal Nature by a team including Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who leads a long-term study of SN 1987A with Hubble. Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble telescope has provided a continuous record of the changes in SN 1987A.

First Images from the VLT Survey Telescope — VST and 268 megapixel OmegaCAM start work

This ESOcast introduces the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), the latest addition to ESO’s Paranal Observatory. This new telescope has just made its first release of impressive images of the southern sky. The VST is a state-of-the-art 2.6-metre telescope, with the huge 268-megapixel camera OmegaCAM at its heart. It is designed to map the sky both quickly and with very fine image quality. It is a visible-light telescope that perfectly complements ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope. New images of the Omega Nebula and the globular cluster Omega Centauri demonstrate the VST’s power

Brand new telescope captures Omega Nebula in all its glory

VLT Survey Telescope in the Atacama desert will contribute to research into dark matter, dark energy and evolution of galaxies

The first image released by the VLT Survey Telescope, showing the star-forming region Messier 17

A spectacular stellar nursery shines through the gas and dust clouds of the Omega Nebula 5,500 light years from Earth in the heart of the Milky Way.
The image is the first to be released from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) that sits on the summit of Paranal Hill in the Atacama desert in northern Chile.
Dotted with hot young stars, the region is part of the constellation of Sagittarius, the Archer, and is known by other names including the Swan Nebula and Messier 17.
The 2.6-metre aperture telescope, one of the world’s largest, uses adaptive optics to ensure the instrument’s mirrors are always in the perfect position to view the skies. Behind the telescope’s lenses, images are captured by OmegaCAM, a 268-megapixel digital camera that weighs in at 770kg.
The telescope will conduct three surveys over the next five years, producing images that will further research on dark matter, the invisible substance that clings to galaxies; dark energy, which is thought to drive the expansion of the universe; and the evolution of galaxies.
“The combination of large field of view, excellent image quality, and the very efficient operations scheme of the VST will produce an enormous wealth of information that will advance many fields of astrophysics,” said Konrad Kuijken, head of the OmegaCAM consortium.

The Expanded Very Large Array – A New Telescope For New Science

An upgrade to one of the world’s great radio telescope arrays is set to transform our view of the radio frequency universe
One of the great work-horses of modern astronomy is the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, a Y-shaped network of 27 radio telescopes, each one with a diameter of 25 metres.

Since it was built in the 1970s, the VLA has helped to transform our view of the universe. The array has created radio frequency images of everything from the Sun and planets to quasers, pulsars and supernova remnants.

But now that it’s more than 30 years old, the VLA is beginning to creak. Which is why it has been undergoing an upgrade to turn it once again into a state-of-the-art facility.

When this upgrade is finished at the end of next year, the new machine will be called the Very Large Array Expansion project or EVLA.

Today, Rick Perley and pals at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which runs the VLA, give an overview of the upgrades the old lady is in the midst of. They also outline the new science that the EVLA will do.

And it looks to be an impressive beast. The EVLA will have “vastly greater capabilities and flexibility than the VLA” say Perley and co.

In particular, it will be able to see the strength and topology of magnetic fields on a cosmic scale by looking at the the radio emissions they produce; it will be able to peer through the dust that shrouds many objects at optical frequencies and it will track the formation and evolution of nearby galaxies and galactic nuclei.

And best of all– this roller coaster ride of radio frequency data comes at a knock down price of only $96 million. That’s the astronomical equivalent of peanuts.