A NASA center and the Pentagon’s lead research group are striking financial flint to steel in hopes of sparking a sustained effort to make interstellar space travel a reality.
On Thursday, an official with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that the agency will award a $500,000 grant to the person or group who can lay out the most effective road map for financing and implementing a research and development program to lead to interstellar travel by early next century.
At that point, the government will bow out, leaving it up to the winner to turn the ideas on Powerpoint slides to a sustainable research program – one that also is likely to focus on the ethical, economic, and legal issues surrounding the prospect of launching humans to other stars.
Star Death is A Violent Thing Especially when it’s ripped apart by a middleweight black hole. X-ray: NASA/CXC/UA/J. Irwin et al. Optical: NASA/STScI
We know that super-massive black holes can devour stars, and we know that stellar-mass black holes born of collapsing stars often anchor at the center of galaxies, but the elusive middleweight black hole is more theory than knowledge. While scientists have long thought they are hiding out there, hard evidence of their existence has been hard to come by. But NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, in conjunction with data from the Magellan telescopes, has captured what looks like the guts of a white dwarf star after being ripped apart by an intermediate-mass black hole.
Peering into the globular cluster at the center of elliptical galaxy NGC 1399 — 65 million light years from Earth — a burst of bright light can be seen above and left of center. Chandra’s image (the shot above is composite, with X-ray light in blue laid over a background snapped by Hubble) shows that the bright emission of light is an ultraluminous X-ray source (ULX). ULXs are a rare class of objects that emit more X-rays than stars but less than the supermassive black holes at the center of quasars. Exactly what makes up a ULX source remains a mystery, but it’s been suggested they are mid-sized black holes with masses somewhere between hundreds and thousands of times that of our sun.
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The European Space Agency (Esa) has released stunning new pictures from the recently launched Herschel telescope. Credit: ESA
The pictures show star formation, and have been described as among the most important images obtained from space for decades.
Astronomers hope that, by analysing these images, they will be able to answer questions about how stars and galaxies are made.
Herschel is the largest astronomical telescope ever to be put into space.
It has captured images of previously invisible stardust. This is the stuff that galaxies, stars, planets and all life is made from, and scientists are studying it to follow the life cycle of the cosmos.
Bruce Swinyard, from the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, is a member of the research team that designed Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (Spire), one of the three scientific instruments that is providing the telescope’s eyes.
These three detectors allow Herschel to see far-infrared and sub-millimetre (radio) wavelengths of light, allowing it to peer through clouds of dust and gas and to see stars as they are born.