Archive for December, 2010

The Clue to the Missing Matter of the Nearby Universe

In May of 2010, Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton detected a vast reservoir of gas lying along a wall-shaped structure of galaxies about 400 million light years from Earth. In the image above the spiral and elliptical galaxies are shown in the Sculptor Wall along with the newly detected intergalactic gas, part of the so-called Warm Hot Intergalactic Medium (WHIM), shown in blue. This discovery is the strongest evidence yet that the “missing matter” in the nearby Universe is located in an enormous web of hot, diffuse gas.

The Sculptor Wall, a type of galaxy filament, the largest known structures in the universe, is a wall-shaped structure of galaxies about 400 million light years from Earth. The wall is faint beyond 500 million light years because the data is incomplete beyond that distance. The nearest part of the wall (the Phoenix supercluster) lies next to a large rectangular void, the Sculptor Void -one of the largest voids in the nearby universe.

Read more at the dailygalaxy.com

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Rare solstice lunar eclipse just in time for the Holidays

Everyone knows that “the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below.” That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

The luster will be a bit “off” on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth’s shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth’s shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the “bite” to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.

If you’re planning to dash out for only one quick look -­ it is December, after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That’s when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.

Source

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NASA: Definition of life has just expanded

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Micro-organism found in Mono Lake, California View loc8id map: loc8id.com/7zjI8E Source: Sathish J

NASA has discovered a new life form, a bacteria called GFAJ-1 that is unlike anything currently living in planet Earth. It’s capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything. Updated.

NASA is saying that this is “life as we do not know it”. The reason is that all life on Earth is made of six components: Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.

That was true until today. In a surprising revelation, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today, working differently than the rest of the organisms in the planet. Instead of using phosphorus, the newly discovered microorganism—called GFAJ-1 and found in Mono Lake, California—uses the poisonous arsenic for its building blocks. Arsenic is an element poisonous to every other living creature in the planet except for a few specialized microscopic creatures.

Continue reading at Gizmodo.com

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The Probability of Finding Aliens Is Now Three Times Higher

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The total number of stars in the Universe “is likely three times bigger than realized.” Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum says there are “possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars,” dramatically increasing the possibility of finding alien civilizations.

According to the new study just published in Nature, new observations on the red end of the optical spectrum at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii show an overwhelming population of red dwarfs in eight massive nearby elliptical galaxies. The team has discovered that these galaxies hold twenty times more red dwarfs than the Milky Way.

Van Dokkum says that “there are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars” which are “typically more than 10 billion years old.” According to him, that’s long enough for complex life to evolve, which is “one reason why people are interested in this type of star.” In fact, astronomers discovered the first exoplanet similar to our own Earth—and therefore capable of harboring complex life—orbiting the Gliese 581 red dwarf star system, 20.3 light years from our home planet.

Continue reading at Gizmodo.com

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