Explanation: If you stay up long enough, you can watch both suns set. Such might be a common adage from beings floating in the atmosphere of Kepler 16b, a planet recently discovered by the space-based Kepler satellite. The above animated video shows how the planetary system might look to a visiting spaceship. Although multiple star systems are quite common, this is the first known to have a planet. Because our Earth is in the orbital plane of both stars and the planet, each body is seen to eclipse the others at different times, producing noticeable drop offs in the amount of light seen. The frequent eclipses have given Kepler 16b the most accurate mass and radius determination for a planet outside our Solar System. To find a planet like Saturn in an orbit like Venus — so close to its binary star parents — was a surprise and will surely become a focus of research.
Explanation: While hunting for comets in the skies above 18th century France, astronomer Charles Messier diligently kept a list of the things he encountered that were definitely not comets. This is number 27 on his now famous not-a-comet list. In fact, 21st century astronomers would identify it as a planetary nebula, but it’s not a planet either, even though it may appear round and planet-like in a small telescope. Messier 27 (M27) is an excellent example of a gaseous emission nebula created as a sun-like star runs out of nuclear fuel in its core. The nebula forms as the star’s outer layers are expelled into space, with a visible glow generated by atoms excited by the dying star’s intense but invisible ultraviolet light. Known by the popular name of the Dumbbell Nebula, the beautifully symmetric interstellar gas cloud is over 2.5 light-years across and about 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. This impressive color composite highlights details within the well-studied central region and fainter, seldom imaged features in the nebula’s outer halo. It incorporates broad and narrowband images recorded using filters sensitive to emission from sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Why is this planet so dark? Planet TrES-2b reflects back less than one percent of the light it receives, making it darker than any known planet or moon, darker even than coal. Jupiter-sized TrES-2b orbits extremely close to a sun-like star 750 light years away, and was discovered producing slight eclipses in 2006 using the modest 10-cm telescopes of the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey (TrES). The alien world’s strange darkness, however, was only uncovered recently by observations indicating its slight reflective glow by the Sun-orbiting Kepler satellite. An artist’s drawing of planet is shown above, complete with unsubstantiated speculation on possible moons. Reasons for TrES-2b’s darkness remain unknown and are an active topic of research.
An asteroid dsicovered late in 2010 has now been revealed to be the Earth’s first known Trojan asteroid. The video shows how pretty freakin’ groovy its orbit is.
From Scientific American:
The first in a long-sought type of asteroid companion to Earth has now been discovered, a space rock that always dances in front of the planet along its orbital path, just beyond its reach…read more
Some more cool info about it here by Paul Wiegert, who was one of the astronomers who found it. Also, on that page, if you scroll down to the Video Clips bit, there are some even more cool videos of its orbit!
NASA’s 135th space shuttle flight ended this morning when Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, marking the close of a 30-year run for NASA’s ambitious, controversial and troubled orbital vehicle… read more
Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, is seen further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut has ever been. This space first was made possible by the Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU, a nitrogen jet propelled backpack. After a series of test maneuvers inside and above Challenger’s payload bay, McCandless went “free-flying” to a distance of 320 feet away from the Orbiter. This stunning orbital panorama view shows McCandless out there amongst the black and blue of Earth and space.
This just blows my mind! Imagine how it would feel to be that far above the Earth without being connected to anything, just floating in a lethal nothing! Pretty fucking scary, I bet.
This is an image of the Carina Nebula showing a (50-light-year-wide) region of tremendous star birth and death 7,500 light years away from Earth. The nebula is home to Eta Carinae, one of the most massive stars in the universe, prone to unpredictable, violent outbursts.