“Did Our Solar System Evolve in a More Oxygen-Rich Region of the Milky Way?”

In February 2012, NASAs Interstellar Boundary Explorer, the centerpiece of a $169 million mission mapping the frontier of the suns influence, detected atoms from interstellar space streaming by Earth, that are different from the chemical make-up of the solar system.”Our solar system is different than the space right outside it, suggesting two possibilities,” said David McComas, IBEX principal investigator, at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Either the solar system evolved in a separate, more oxygen-rich part of the galaxy than where we currently reside, or a great deal of critical, life-giving oxygen lies trapped in interstellar dust grains or ices, unable to move freely throughout space.””Weve directly measured four separate types of atoms from interstellar space and the composition just doesnt match up with what we see in the solar system,” said Eric Christian, IBEX mission scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “IBEXs observations shed a whole new light on the mysterious zone where the solar system ends and interstellar space begins.”

via “Did Our Solar System Evolve in a More Oxygen-Rich Region of the Milky Way?” Space-Mission Findings Baffle Scientists.

Galaxy Clusters Reveal Distribution of Dark Matter

“Each bright city light is a galaxy, and the dark areas between the lights that appear to be empty during the night are actually full of dark matter. You can think of the dark matter in a galaxy cluster as being the infrastructure within which the galaxies live,” say an international team of astronomers from Taiwan, UK, Japan, and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics ASIAA. The researchers used a large sample of galaxy clusters to find out how the density of dark matter changes from the center of a typical galaxy cluster to its outskirts.has used the Subaru Telescope to measure the density of dark matter in fifty galaxy clusters and found that its density gradually decreases from the center of these cosmic giants to their diffuse outskirts. This new evidence about the mysterious dark matter that pervades our Universe conforms to the predictions of cold dark matter theory, known as “CDM”.Almost all of the bright objects in the Hubble Space Telescope image above are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs – a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 is itself about two billion light-years away in the northern constellation Draco. Three images of this young, still-maturing galaxy are faintly visible in the white contours near the image top and the lower right. The recorded light, further analyzed with a Keck Telescope, left this galaxy when the universe was only about five percent of its current age.

via Galaxy Clusters Reveal Distribution of Dark Matter.

New Unknown Type of Star Discovered

A Swiss team from the famous Geneva Observatory has achieved extraordinary precision using a comparatively small 1.2-metre telescope for an observing programme stretching over many years. They have discovered a new class of variable stars by measuring minute variations in stellar brightness in the open star cluster NGC 3766 in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), and is estimated to be about 20 million years old.

via New Unknown Type of Star Discovered.

The Whirlpool Galaxy

I thought I would share this, as I am quite pleased with the results. Below are three images that I have taken (last night) using the Bradford Robotic Telescope. The First image is  in standard visual wavelengths. The second has been taken through a Hydrogen Alpha filter. The third is a stacked image of the two. This is my first proper attempt at stacking, and I am very happy with the results.


W Pool Normal Named


W Pool H Alpha Named


W Pool Stacked copy Named

So… Let’s Say There’s an Alternate Universe…

The Nerd Next Door

Ok, I have a hypothetical question this morning: Let’s say there are alternate universes (some people do, in fact, maintain that there are) meaning in this context that basically anything that can happen, would happen.

If anything that can happen does happen in another universe, that means that somewhere out there is the perfect you.  The you you’ve always wanted to be.  The you that made all the right choices, had the right amount of willpower, hard work, support, and luck to turn out to basically be this universe’s fantasy version of you.

Ok now, here’s the question: Are you jealous of yourself, or are you happy that somewhere out there you’ve really made it?  Also, what does you fantasy self look like?

I don’t know how I’d feel knowing there’s a Loren Riley out there that has perfect skin, was never awkward, graduated top of her class in astrophysics, and is…

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The Sun.

I have just been out having a sneaky peak at what the sun is up to today (when I really should be doing coursework so that I can go and see Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s lecture on Pulsars tonight) but it struck me that, in actual fact, the Sun is a fascinating thing to look at.
Now CLEARLY it goes without saying, that observing the sun is EXTREMELY dangerous unless you are using the correct equipment (SO DO NOT DO IT UNPROTECTED). This said, the protective equipment isn’t expensive. My solar filter I use on my Skywatcher-102 literally cost me nothing to make. The Baader solar film was a gift (its only £16ish anyway) and the rest is a cereal box and brown packing tape.

When you look through the scope, and actually consider what you are seeing, its pretty spectacular even though the smallest scopes. My 102 is only 3″ but in some cases, with solar viewing in particular, I think smaller aperture is actually beneficial.
The below Image i took down the eyepiece using my iPhone (so excuse the low quality) but it gets the point across. Astronomy doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby to get good results.

Sun 04.06.13 Named

What we are looking at when we observe sunspots, are areas of the suns surface, that are ever so slightly cooler than the rest. Now, this is relative, as we are still talking about tens of thousands of Kelvin. It can also related to different magnetic activity on the surface, with magnetic field lines protruding from the surface. As the solar material is ionized it follows up along the magnetic field lines creating prominence. If magnetic re-connection occurs this can result in the material being ejected into space, in what is known as a CME or Coronal Mass Ejection. Which is bad news for satellites and the power grids here on Earth. So in fact, solar weather is a very important part of observational astronomy. A great website for more information and current updates on space weather is;


Happy observing!

Astrophysics: A glimpse inside a magnetar.

A neutron star resembles a giant atomic nucleus, with 1–2 times the Sun’s mass packed into a ball about 20 kilometres across. Its gravity is so strong that a projectile would need to be launched at about half the speed of light to escape from its surface. Extreme density, pressure, temperature, magnetism and relativistic gravity make these objects fascinating but challenging to study. Surprising observations of spin-down irregularities in one intensely magnetized neutron star, reported by Archibald et al.1 on page 591 of this issue, offer clues about exotic processes occurring deep inside these objects.

The basic structure of a neutron star is generally agreed on. It has a crust about 1 km thick, in which nuclei are arranged in a crystal lattice immersed in a ‘sea’ of electrons. Near the surface, the nuclei are plain iron, but the pressure and density increase rapidly with depth, so that the nuclei become increasingly bloated and neutron-rich. At moderate depth, neutrons ‘drip’ out of the nuclei, forming a neutral liquid between the lattice nuclei. At the base of the crust, the bloated nuclei merge. Below this lies pure nuclear fluid, more than 200 trillion times denser than liquid water.

via Astrophysics: A glimpse inside a magnetar : Nature : Nature Publishing Group.

Galaxy formation: Cosmic dawn

For one sleepless week in early September 2009, Garth Illingworth and his team had the early Universe all to themselves. At NASA’s request, Illingworth, Rychard Bouwens and Pascal Oesch had just spent the previous week staring into their computer screens at the University of California, Santa Cruz, scanning through hundreds of black-and-white portraits of faint galaxies recorded in a multi-day time exposure by a newly installed infrared camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA simply wanted the three astronomers to preview the images and make sure that the camera was working correctly, before the agency released the data more widely.

via Galaxy formation: Cosmic dawn : Nature News & Comment.