The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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A German companion - only available here!
Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Stardust

Three months to go til the next European solar eclipse!
The event in the early morning of May 31 will be tough - an annular eclipse practically at sunrise for Scotland, Iceland and Greenland: Espenak info, Williams info, Seal info, Klipsi info.
Update # 249 of Friday, February 21, 2003
Rosetta's unpleasant options / MAP's first map released / Columbia inquiry update

Rosetta faces unpleasant options: not one comet in sight that suits all wishes

The ambitious European comet mission Rosetta is in greater difficulties after the loss of the original launch window in January to comet 46P/Wirtanen (see Update # 247 lead) than it had seemed in the weeks since: Practically all of the potential targets have been eliminated for one reason or another. Only two possibilities remain at the moment: heading for 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (nicknamed Chury) in February 2004 on an Ariane 5 P1+ or going to Wirtanen after all, in January 2004 on a Russian Proton DM. Both options carry severe technical risks, and with Chury also the survival, let alone scientific return, of the lander can not be guaranteed right now. Here are the pros and esp. cons as presented at the 12th meeting of Rosetta's Science Working Team at ESTEC in the Netherlands on Feb. 13:
  • Waiting for the next easy launch window to Wirtanen - takes way too long. Keeping Wirtanen as the target would have one major advantage: The spacecraft and especially its lander are designed for this comet with its small nucleus (diameter approx. 1.6 km). But ESA also wants to have Rosetta in space by mid-2005, so there's no way to wait for Wirtanen to complete another 5.5 year orbit.

  • Going to Wirtanen via Venus - impossible. Rosetta is only qualified to go within 0.9 AU of the Sun: A flyby of Venus (that would sling the spacecraft to a 2012 rendezvous with Wirtanen after launches in Oct. 2003 or even April 2004) would surely damage many systems. And Rosetta, right now stored in a cleanroom in Kourou in flight-ready condition, cannot be redesigned in time - and should be touched as little as possible anyway.

  • Going to Tempel 2 or Howell - pretty much impossible. While those two comets could be reached without using Venus, Rosetta would still have to approach the Sun to within 0.8 AU and could be damaged. Also the nucleus of Tempel 2 is way too big with 16 x 8 km: Rosetta's lander would be destroyed, crashing onto the surface in the comparably strong gravity field.

  • Going to Chury - easy but dangerous! In principle the easiest solution would be to use an Ariane 5 P1+ to launch in February 2004 and reach Churyumov-Gerasimenko via Earth and Mars flybys in 2014. But this requires that such an Ariane (a slightly modified version of the standard model) is available and qualified by then - ESA has »reserved« one but Arianespace cannot guarantee it'll be there. Furthermore Chury's nucleus with about 5 km diameter is still too big for the current lander - which, even when successful, would deliver less science because some of its instruments require a small nucleus.

  • Going to Wirtanen with a stronger rocket - a technical challenge! This idea, with a launch in January 2004, seems to be the favorite with many of Rosetta's scientists, but it requires a stronger rocket than the Ariane 5 P1+ to leave Earth with greater velocity. The Ariane 5 ECA could do it in principle, but it won't be ready in early 2004, Arianespace has had to admit (e.g. in Space News of Feb. 10, p.3): The only qualified rocket strong enough would be Russia's Proton DM. Rosetta is 40 cm too big for the Proton's payload fairing, though, which would have to be modified and qualified, all within the next 10 months ...
So these are the options ESA has to choose from within weeks: At its next meeting on Feb. 25/26 the Science Programme Committee is to endorse a solution, and at its next meeting in May a final decision must be made. At the Science Working Team meeting a resolution was adopted that urges ESA to work on the Wirtanen option as the better way to go. But in parallel all possibilities should be studied to adapt the lander for Chury's gravity, while all possible ground- and space-based opportunities should be used to characterize its nucleus and behavior. Already extraordinary observing time with the HST has been applied for, and ESO's telescopes are aimed at Chury right now: On Feb. 12 it was showing strong jet activity, outbound from the Sun at 2.3 AU.

NEAT gave spectacular show in SOHO's field of view

The comet, perhaps the brightest ever to come so close to the Sun since SOHO's launch, displayed a spectacular dust tail: SOHO Hotshots, APOD, ESA Science News, a movie [ACC], coverage by AstroBio Mag., BBC, SC and previews by ESA Science News, S&T and Ast. Also some ground-based pictures in an APOD and in Cometography.

Design defects caused CONTOUR breakup

A design flaw in the placement of a rocket motor has apparently caused the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft to break up in space last August - a solid rocket motor used to boost it out of Earth orbit has been placed too far into the body of the spacecraft, and as a result, hot gases heated the probe and caused it to break apart near the end of the August 15 engine burn: Balt. Sun, AP, ST.
Pioneer 10 has been heard from again on Jan. 23, but because of limited link time (due to a high-power transmitter trip) no telemetry was received: Status Report.

The final Ariane 4 has been launched

on Feb. 15 after several delays - and since all versions of the Ariane 5 are currently out of action (with the next launch of a normal Ariane 5 now expected not before the end of March) Europe is temporarily without a launcher of its own ... Arianespace and ESA Press Releases and coverage by SN, BBC, SC, AFP (earlier), ST (earlier), RP, Welt, NZ (früher, noch früher).
ESA to launch Russian rockets from Kourou - the European Space Agency (ESA) has struck a cooperation deal with Russia that should see Soyuz rockets launched from the ESA space port at Kourou, in the French south American territory of Guiana: AFP.
Astronomy in the U.S. 2004 budget, reviewed in FYI. NASA's 2003 budget about to be finished: ST. Beyond Einstein: Wired.

First all-sky CMBR map from (W)MAP confirms current - weird - view of the Universe

Just a few years ago it would have been a stunning sensation, but when the analysis of the first year of observations with NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe (see Update # 225) was revealed - both in a press conference and in all technical detail on the web - on Feb. 11 it provided little more than a striking confirmation of what we had learned over the past 5 years: from balloon- and groundbased radiotelescopes scanning the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB) with ever greater detail (see e.g. Update # 223) as well as by scores of other means (starting in Update # 68). Still the results of MAP - renamed WMAP or Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe after a recently deceased leading CMB researcher - are a welcome addition to the mountain of results already in hand, as many of the key parameters that define our Universe are now known with much greater certainty.

Even using only the WMAP maps of the full sky, obtained in five wavelengths in order to remove all foreground sources, one can say e.g. that the baryon density is (0.024±0.001)/h², the overall matter density is (0.14±0.02)/h², the Hubble constant (divided by 100 km/s/Mpc) h is 0.72±0.05, the age of the Universe is 13.4±0.3 Gyr, and the Universe was 372'000±14'000 years old when radiation and matter decoupled. But if one combines the WMAP map with a few cosmological measurements obtained with other means, one can break various degeneracies and arrive at even more precise numbers. The WMAP researchers used data from two other CMB experiments that had higher angular resolution but observed only smaller fields (CBI and ACBAR), plus data of the large-scale structure of the Universe from the 2dFGRS galaxy survey and the Lyman-alpha forest caused by hydrogen clouds in intergalactic space and could thus conclude (amomg many other things), that

  • the Hubble constant h is 71(+4/-3) km/s/Mpc, in close agreement with the 'final' result of the Ho Key Project (see Update # 213 small items - the controversy raised in Update # 133 story 2 has not been put to rest, though),

  • the baryon density is (0.0224±0.0009)/h² = 0.044±0.004, i.e. 'normal' matter contributes only 4.4±0.4 percent of the density needed to close the Universe,

  • the overall matter density is (0.135(+0.008/-0.009))/h² = 0.27±0.04, i.e. there is (27-4.4)/4.4 = 5 times as much mysterious non-baryonic Dark Matter in the Universe as normal matter,

  • the Universe is flat, with Omega-total = 1.02±0.02, which means that the even more mysterious Dark Energy is contributing 73±4 percent to the overall content of the Universe (there is a hint in the WMAP data that the Dark Energy is Einstein's cosmological constant and not so-called quintessence, but that's not proven yet), and

  • the age of the Universe is 13.7±0.2 Gyr, a value which is not in conflict with any current age determination of astronomical objects - cosmology in 2003 is self-consistent and free of contradictions!
Among the other conclusions from the first year of MAP's data is that the simplest version of inflation does not work (but many other versions do), that radiation and matter decoupled at a redshift of 1089±1 which was 379'000(+8000/-7000) years after the Big Bang, and that the Universe was reionized at a redshift of 20(+10/-9), i.e. 180(+220/-80) Myr after the Big Bang. This last result, based on subtle polarization effects WMAP was also measuring, was the only big surprise, because it probably means that the first stars formed significantly earlier than thought (which was about 1 Gyr after the Big Bang). MAP's mission is financed for 4 years, so the amount of data and the precision of the results will improve even more. But just days after the release of the 1-year data many more papers by other authors started to appear on astro-ph, trying to make sense of it all. So what is our Universe like?

John Bahcall calls it "crazy and implausible", Bob Kirshner finds it "extravagant", and it is - with its dominance of Dark Energy and Dark Matter - certainly not what many had expected just half a decade ago. One of the WMAP papers, by Spergel et al., puts it into perspective: "Cosmology is now in a similar stage in its intellectual development to particle physics three decades ago when particle physicists converged on the current standard model. The standard model of particle physics fits a wide range of data, but does not answer many fundamental questions [...]. Similarly, the standard cosmological model has many deep open questions: What is the dark energy? What is the dark matter? What is the physical model behind inflation (or something like inflation)? Over the past three decades, precision tests have confirmed the standard model of particle physics and searched for distinctive signatures of the natural extension of the standard model: supersymmetry. Over the coming years, improving CMB, large scale structure, lensing, and supernova data will provide ever more rigorous tests of the cosmological standard model and search for new physics beyond the standard model."

The most important WMAP papers are by Bennett & al., Spergel & al. and Hinshaw & al., here are links to all papers, a very simple overview, lots of illustrations, GSFC and UCLA Releases, a NASA Release on WMAP's new name, Science@NASA and APOD.
Coverage by NSU, S&T, SN, NYT, WP (also a commentary), SF Gate, UPI, SciAm, BBC, SC, AFP, CNN, ST, RP, Welt, NZ - and a preview.

What the ages of stars say about the age of the Universe

Based on clusters of the oldest stars in the Milky Way galaxy and refined parameter estimates for their star evolution, it could be established that with 95 percent confidence the age of the universe is between 11.2 and 20 billion years: Case Western PR.

Sunyaev-Zel'dovich increment measured with SCUBA in two galaxy clusters: Univ. of Br. Columbia PR.
A portrait of Adam Riess, one of the men who found that the Universe is accelerating, in the NYT. "Supernova Factory" to yield vastly more SNe: Vanderbilt Release. Life in an accelerating Universe: NSU.

"Missing" baryons found: as vast fog surrounding the local group

The WMAP data as well as numerous other lines of evidence show that the Universe is about 73 percent "dark energy," 23 percent "dark matter," and only 4 percent normal matter - but only now has the majority of the latter, baryonic matter been located with mainly the FUSE satellite: CfA and OSU [SD] Press Releases and coverage by PhysicsWeb, SC, NZ.

Do Hubble images of distant quasars question basic assumptions of quantum mechanics?

Lieu & Hillman think so (see also their Univ. of Alabama PR and Ast. story), but Ng & al. and Coule think not. Also an AAAS Release and a UPI story on the possibility of space and time atoms ...
The controversy about the speed of gravity (see Update # 247 small items) is also unresolved: new papers by Kopeikin and Fomalont & Kopeikin and an Ast. story.

Once-bizarre concept of extra dimensions showing hints of scientific revolution, and may help solve seemingly unrelated problems in particle physics, cosmology and gravitational physics: U. of Chicago PR. Ast. article.
How constant are Nature's constants? Apparent variations would shake up physics, need to be confirmed: ZEIT.

Picture of Columbia's demise sharpens, but root cause still elusive

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board on Feb. 13 released the first conclusions from a thermal analysis that indicates a breach of hot plasma into the orbiter's left wing as a key event. "Preliminary analysis by a NASA working group this week indicates that the temperature indications seen in Columbia's left wheel well during entry would require the presence of plasma (super heated gas surrounding the orbiter during re-entry)," the CAIB writes in its first official statement: "Heat transfer through the structure as from a missing tile would not be sufficient to cause the temperature indications seen in the last minutes of flight. Additional analysis is underway, looking at various scenarios in which a breach of some type, allowing plasma into the wheel well area or elsewhere in the wing, could occur." All possibilities are still on the table, from a hit by space debris to unexpected damage to the wing's leading edge (which many experts are considerin to be the most likely point for the breach) from the foam incident during launch. More recent insights:
  • Two additional attitude control jets aboard Columbia fired after voice communication was lost with the shuttle, an analysis of data from the subsequent second indicates. Two other yaw control jets were known to have fired earlier in an attempt to maintain control of the vehicle, which was fighting as hard as it could to maintain the flight path.

  • It has become known that Columbia suffered from strange drag on her left side during two previous missions. This could mean that the wing was unusally rough or damaged in some subtle way. Before the fatal mission STS-107, though, Columbia had been in space once after a complete overhaul (for the last HST Servicing Mission), and no anomalies ocurred then.

  • One of five general purpose computers aboard Columbia has been found among debris shipped to the Kennedy Space Center. The computer was badly damaged and its battery was missing. These types of computer have no hard drives, so investigators held out little hope of extracting additional information.

  • The famous picture of Columbia returning over New Mexico was not taken with one of the hi-tech telescopes of the Starfire Optical range - but with an off-the-shelf 3.5" amateur telescope. There is only this one image (the coelostat had problems tracking the shuttle) - and (non-NASA) analysts still differ widely in its interpretation.

  • It is now all but certain, however, that Columbia's break-up has already begun over the U.S. West coast, as numerous optical observations (mainly by amateur astronomers) are now being backed up by radar data as well. The search for possible debris west of Texas has thus been intensified, to no avail so far. Such early fragments could contain the smoking gun, i.e. hint directly at the root cause of the plasma breach. Also, infrasound measurements are becoming important.
Meanwhile NASA scientists are continuing to assess the status of the data received by the experiments onboard during its final mission. Columbia carried more than 80 experiments, science, commercial and student, on a 16-day mission devoted to research, entrepreneurship and education. "For those experiments that received down-linked data during the mission, we estimate that anywhere between 50-90 percent of the data was acquired," says David Liskowsky, STS-107 Program Scientist for NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR). Most of these experiments were in the physical science disciplines of combustion research, material sciences, and fluid physics. For most of the life sciences experiments, data and specimens were to be recovered on landing, so no data is available.

Regarding the future of the ISS, meetings have taken place between NASA and Rosaviakosmos on overall resupply and crew exchange strategies, and between NASA and ESA on the potential rearrangement of taxi flights with ESA astronauts within this situation; these discussions have not yet reached conclusions and will be pursued. One option mentioned a lot: fly only two (one Russian, one American) on the next Soyuz in April/May, bring Expedition 6 home with the old Soyuz and wait for October. Meanwhile the crew that was meant to fly on the next Shuttle flight are still in training, and in parallel a crew for the next Soyuz flight are being trained in case they have to become the next Expedition crew. (With AW&ST of Feb. 17, 2003, p. 22-32)

A CAIB Press Release, the CAIB's charter, NASA Releases on changes in the charter, the SAR operation and STS-107 science saved (what was planned), an O'Keefe statement at a hearing, a timeline in pictures, a detailled merged timeline of events and closed loop discussions [another transcript], a sample of debris pix, a time-exposure photograph showing two flares over the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in California and several infrasound recordings.
How things played out in a chat, the Contingency Action Plan, NASA's STS-107 material, in particular the Mishap Response Status Reports (the STS-107 Status Reports have ended with # 27), ESA's Columbia Update #3, Space Ref's links, Space Today's collection and AW&ST links (many more links in the last Update).
A long article in German on the first 9 days of the investigation, plus selected coverage of Feb. 21: SN 3, 2, 1, AD, WP, FT 2, 1, NYT 2, 1, AP, SC, ST. Feb. 20: SN 2, 1, FT, AFP, SC 2, 1, NYT, CNN, UPI, ST, NZ. Feb. 19: New Sci., WP 2, 1, AIP FYI, AFP 2, 1, ST, FT 3, 2, 1, NYT 3, 2, 1, AP, SC, UPI, SkyNews, RP, NZ. Feb. 18: SN, AP 2, 1, NYT 2, 1, FT, SC 2, 1, UPI, NZ. Feb. 17: UPI, WP 3, 2, 1, NYT 2, 1, AP 2, 1, SpaceRev. Feb. 16: NYT 2, 1, WP, ST, FT, AP 2, 1. Feb. 15: AW&ST, SpaceEq, FT 3, 2, 1, NYT 4, 3, 2, 1, WP 2, 1, CNN. Feb. 14: New Sci., SN, ST 3, 2, 1, SC, FT, NYT 3, 2, 1, WP 4, 3, 2, 1, Rtr, AFP 3, 2, 1, SD, BBC, USA Today 3, 2, 1, RP (with huge picture gallery), Welt, NZ.
Feb. 13: New Sci., SN 2, 1, ST 3, 2, 1, FT, AP, AFP 2, 1, SC 2, 1, WP 2, 1, NYT 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, CNN, BBC 2, 1, CSM, RP, NZ. Feb. 12: AFP 2, 1, FT 3, 2, 1, SC 2, 1, NYT 4, 3, 2, 1, WP, AP 4, 3, 2, 1, SC, WP, ABC, RP. Feb. 11: FT 3, 2, 1, NYT 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, WP, AFP 3, 2, 1, AP 4, 3, 2, 1, ST 2, 1, SN, SC 3, 2, 1, SpaceRev, CNN, BBC, Guardian, RP, NZ 2, 1. Feb. 10: New Sci., SN, NYT 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, WP 3, 2, 1, AP 2, 1, SC 1, CSM, NZ 2, 1. Also Science@NASA on noctilucent cloud observatons from the ISS.

NASA issues requirements for Orbital Space Plane

On Feb. 19 NASA released the "top-level" requirements for its proposed Orbital Space Plane (OSP) that would supplement the space shuttle and serve as a crew return vehicle for the space station: Requirements, MSFC Release, SN, AD, FT, AFP, UPI, SC, ST, Welt.
China plans to launch three astronauts on Shenzhou 5, probably in November (and not October as rumored in January): AFP, ST. The experiments on Shenzhou 4: SD.

Yet another hypothesis to explain the 'gullies on Mars'

(see e.g. Updates # 194 and 232 story 2) has been presented by NASA researchers - in this view, based on images by the two current Mars orbiters, the gullies were created by trickling water from melting snow packs, not underground springs or pressurized flows, as had been suggested initially: JPL Release, Science@NASA [SN], ASU pictures [SR], APOD and coverage by S&T, Ast., BBC, New Sci., WP, UPI, AFP, Dsc., NYT, ST, SC, NZ, RP. The proposal is not new: SR. Earlier gully speculations: SC.

The south polar cap on the planet Mars consists primarily of water ice, and not carbon dioxide as previously believed - this view is based on an analysis of pits observed in the polar cap by the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey spacecraft: a Caltech PR, more pictures and coverage by NSU, SC, BBC, Guardian, Ast., ST, Welt, NZ.

Models of possible water flow on Mars

have been created based on new three-dimensional data from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and a powerful state-of-the-art computer code: Ames Press Release. Early Mars warm enough to melt water? PSU Press Release. Mars without water? Astrobiol.Mag. How much water is there on Mars today? LANL Release [SD], Ast., Dsc., BBC, SC, NZ. Mars age questions: Univ. of Buffalo PR.

Preparing Mars Express for launch as well as Beagle 2: ESA Science News, BBC. Mars Rovers have landing sites, arrive at Cape: SC, Status, BBC. Mars getting brighter in the morning sky: SC.

The first asteroid completely inside Earth's orbit

(i.e. with an aphelion of less than 1 AU) has been discovered - 2003 CP20 was found near its maximum possible elongation from the sun of 76 deg, and the minimum possible distance from the earth is currently 0.19 AU (but passages within 0.05 AU of Venus are occurring): MPEC, the orbit, Ast., BBC, SC, NZ.

An impact/volcanism link after all? So far it's only a possible statistical association, while any mechanism remains elusive: Earthinst. PR. Shock waves through the Solar Nebula could explain water-rich meteorites: UA News. NEO researchers demand deeper survey, down to 200 meters: Workshop Report, NOAO Release, Nat'l Geogr.

A giant exoplanet orbiting a giant star

will not live long - the planet, just discovered in orbit about the giant star HD 47536 (23.5 solar diameters), already will perish within a few tens of millions of years: ESO Press Release, Ast., BBC, SC.

Another planet orbiting an even bigger star (26.3 solar diameters) has been announced at a conference in Germany: FSU Jena PM.

Planet formation on the fast track - a new concept has planets as massive as Jupiter form completely within just a few hundred years, rather than the millions mandated by today's most popular planet-formation model: Science News. Life on every third planet? NSU.

Magnetic storms on the Sun have weather cells

Clusters of sunspots form their own weather patterns on the sun - large complexes of magnetic sunspots cause downdrafts in their vicinity that are fed by winds flowing into the sun from the surface and dissipated by strong winds flowing out from deep below the sunspots: Univ. of CO Press Release. Closing in on the physics behind CMEs: PPARC PR. Short-period soundwaves in the Sun: Göttingen PM. Früher: RP.

ESA chairs the International Living With a Star program, an unprecedented initiative in which space agencies worldwide are getting together to investigate how variations in the Sun affect the environment of Earth and the other planets, in the short and long term: ESA Science News. LWS missions assigned to APL: SD.

A report from the latest Totality Day at the Open University, covering mainly the Dec. 2002 solar eclipse, by the organizers.

The third-closest star (system)

after the triple star Alpha Cen and Barnard's star has been discovered - SO025300.5+165258 has a very large proper motion of 5.06±0.03 arcsec/yr and a parallax of 0.43±0.13 arcsec: a paper by Teegarden & al., BBC, Welt. Young stars found near Earth, ideal to study planet formation: Swarthmore PR.

Coronal activity may be 'buried alive' in red giant stars - now astronomers have indirectly detected the presence of hot coronal gas in Aldebaran and Arcturus through UV emissions of highly charged carbon and oxygen detected by the FUSE satellite: Boulder PR.

A new end product of stellar evolution that looks like a brown dwarf has been found in the system EF Eridani: UCR News.

Star ejected from a triple system?

Astronomers analyzing nearly 20 years of VLA data have discovered that a small star in a multiple-star system in the constellation Taurus probably has been ejected from the system after a close encounter with one of the system's more-massive components, presumed to be a compact double star: NRAO Press Release, NSU, ST, RP.

The coolest star known (or rather Brown Dwarf) is 2MASS 0415-0935 with a surface temperature of a mere 410° Celsius: S&T. Searching for the faintest stars with the SDSS: U. Wash. PR.

New class of star discovered, sub-dwarf B stars that pulsate like Jell-O, quivering in space through cycles that typically last an hour: UA News.

Stellar cocoons found in harsh environment

in the Carina nebula, including some oddballs with bulbous heads, irregular shapes and long, thin tails - each of these objects may harbor disks of gas and dust that could one day form planetary systems: NOAO, Boulder [SR] Press Releases, SC. The Orion proplyds, as observed with Keck: Keck Release, pictures, Ast.

Case for double nature of Eta Carinae strengthened - the X-ray brightness is rising again, just as expected in the double-star model for the weird object: GSFC Release, Ast.

Missing link found between old and young star clusters - about 100 star clusters have been discovered in the galaxy M 82 that are believed to be the ancestors of globular clusters: Univ. of Cambridge PR.

Huge eruption observed in Rho Cas

A huge eruption by a hypergiant star has blasted nearly 10,000 times the mass of the Earth into space: CfA Press Release, S&T, SC. This star might also be "best candidate for the next supernova": ING, NOSR Press Releases, Ast., NZ.

Supernovae did not play a role in Earth's mass extinctions as the explosion has to be closer than thought to cause environmental havoc: GSFC Release.

Did Sco X-1 run away from a globular cluster? It wouldn't be the first such case, but the most famous one: a paper by Mirabel & Rodrigues, a NRAO Press Release and coverage by S&T, Ast., NZ.

Short and long gamma-ray bursts different to the core

An analysis of nearly 2,000 bursts has uncovered new discrepancies in the light patterns in bursts lasting less the two seconds and in bursts lasting longer than two seconds - one can now say with a high degree of statistical certainty that the two show a different physical behavior: PSU Press Release, Ast.

Another star tracked racing around the Galactic Center - S0-16 has passed within 60 AU of Sgr A*: UCLA PR, NSU. Feeding a galactic dragon: GSFC Press Release, SC, BBC. Black holes form first, galaxies follow: OSU Release.

Faint debris trail found in M 31

The discovery of a faint trail of stars in the nearby Andromeda galaxy offers new evidence that large spiral galaxies have grown by gobbling up smaller satellite galaxies: UCSC Press Release.

A dwarf galaxy with most of its molecular gas in the outskirts and not near its center is IC 10: NRAO Press Release.

Hyper-Extremely Red Objects are located at z < 2, SCUBA studies of these strange galaxies show: S&T, UBC pictures. HERO found near radio galaxy: JPL Release.

Pretty pictures from telescopes large and small

  • Spiral galaxy NGC 3079 as seen by Hubble and Chandra shows filaments consisting of warm and hot gas: MSFC Release.
  • The Boomerang Nebula, the coldest known place in the Universe, as seen by Hubble; APOD, PhysicsWeb, BBC, Dsc., Ast., CNN, NZ, RP.
  • A close-up of the Dumbbell Nebula with numerous knots, in an HST image; APOD, Ast.
  • The light echo around V838 Mon is expanding in a sequence of HST-ACS images: S&T. Also a movie of ground-based images.
  • A coronographic image of quasar 3C 273 with Hubble's new ACS: HST Release.
  • A Chandra image of NGC 346, a young star cluster with a hot cloud - perhaps a SNR - in the center: MSFC Release.
  • A Chandra image of M 83 reveals numerous point-like neutron star and black hole X-ray sources scattered throughout the disk of this spiral galaxy: MSFC Release, S&T, APOD.
  • An XMM-UV image of M 81, showing extreme stellar activity and the supermassive black hole: ESA Science News.
  • Remarkable amateur planet images from Hongkong.

Adaptive Optics integrated into the secondary mirror of a telescope - crucial experiments were made in November 2002 and January 2003 at the 6.5-meter telescope at the MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins, AZ: UA News [SR], Ast. AO also useful in opthalmology: Ast.

A prototype Virtual Observatory has been launched at Jodrell Bank - a kind of 'Astro-Google' to access vast astronomical databases: ESO Press Release, NSU, S&T.

Staff returns to Mount Stromlo, eager to continue work and to rebuild the burned-down Australian observatory: Press Release.

South Pole telescope follows trail of neutrinos into deepest reaches of the Universe

IceCube, the extension of AMANDA, buried in Antarctic ice, promises unparalleled insight into such extraordinary astrophysical phenomena, calculations show: UCI and NorthEastern Press Releases, BBC. Earlier: NSU.

A visit to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider on Long Island by the NYT. First LHC component from U.S. reaches CERN: CERN PR.

  • Satellite photographs reveal ancient road system - recently declassified surveillance satellite images show that subtle land depressions are the remnants of ancient roadways in the Near East: Univ. of Chicago PR.
  • Starshine 3 has reentered, probably over Europe, but nobody seems to have watched: Release.
  • Observing Iridium flares in the sky - a blessing or a curse? S&T.
  • A strange JPL Release on the 'flash on the Moon' (see Update # 246 story 1 sidebar 2) that ignores the severe doubts.
  • SETI in reverse - messages were to be sent into space on Feb. 14: Team Encounter PR.


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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to dfischer@astro.uni-bonn.de!), Skyweek