Large Binocular Telescope Brings the Universe into Sharper Focus

Crab Nebula by Vincenzo Testa and collaborators from Rome Observatory

Today astronomers from the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) released the first series of scientific results showing its best-in-the-world performance in canceling the blur of the Earth’s atmosphere. Included in these first findings are previously impossible discoveries about extrasolar planets and their environments and new insights into how stars are formed.

The LBT is the first in the new generation of extraordinary large ground-based telescopes that uses advanced adaptive secondary mirrors to see more clearly than ever before. The LBT utilizes two giant 8.4 meter mirrors (27.5 feet) and is located on Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona.

“With this unrivaled new technology, we can now probe the close-in environments of nearby stars with a clarity that was previously not possible,” said Richard Green, Director of the LBT. “We expect these to be the first of many amazing new discoveries as we are now able to observe in unique detail the formation of stars and their systems of planets.”

  • Exoplanets observed close to their host star: LBT has measured in unprecedented detail the fourth, innermost planet in the HR8799 planetary system, located more than 128 light-years from Earth. These LBT observations significantly revise previous understanding of the atmospheres of the four planets.
  • A better look at star formation: LBT observations of the Trapezium region in Orion were able to determine the positions of young stars in their orbits around each other with seven times greater accuracy than any previous study. These results confirm a long-suspected theory about the nature of star formation.
  • A new view of an intriguing debris disk : The LBT was able for the first time to probe more deeply into the interior of the debris disk surrounding the star HD 15115, revealing a symmetrical structure quite different from previous observations by other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

More on the LBT: The LBT is an international collaboration among institutions in the United States,Italy and Germany. Partners include:

Source: Large Binocular Telescope Corporation

Image Credit: LBTO

Let’s Explore Rocket Propulsion

Even though the Chinese introduced rockets about 800 years ago, most of the important rocket development has taken place in the 20th Century. A rocket engine is the component that makes travel at top velocities possible and it is fueled through high-pressure movement of propellant material according to certain laws of physics – namely Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Rocket engines have structures that give them advantages over other types of engines and scientists are frequently applying technological improvements to them.

Simple Liquid Rocket Schematic

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NASA Releases New WISE Mission Catalog Of Entire Infrared Sky

NASA unveiled a new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky today showing more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.

“Today, WISE delivers the fruit of 14 years of effort to the astronomical community,” said Edward Wright, WISE principal investigator at UCLA, who first began working on the mission with other team members in 1998.

WISE launched Dec. 14, 2009, and mapped the entire sky in 2010 with vastly better sensitivity than its predecessors. It collected more than 2.7 million images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light, capturing everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies. Since then, the team has been processing more than 15 trillion bytes of returned data. A preliminary release of WISE data, covering the first half of the sky surveyed, was made last April.

The WISE catalog of the entire sky meets the mission’s fundamental objective. The individual WISE exposures have been combined into an atlas of more than 18,000 images covering the sky and a catalog listing the infrared properties of more than 560 million individual objects found in the images. Most of the objects are stars and galaxies, with roughly equal numbers of each. Many of them have never been seen before.

WISE observations have led to numerous discoveries, including the elusive, coolest class of stars. Astronomers hunted for these failed stars, called “Y-dwarfs,” for more than a decade. Because they have been cooling since their formation, they don’t shine in visible light and could not be spotted until WISE mapped the sky with its infrared vision.

WISE also took a poll of near-Earth asteroids, finding there are significantly fewer mid-size objects than previously thought. It also determined NASA has found more than 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids.

Other discoveries were unexpected. WISE found the first known “Trojan” asteroid to share the same orbital path around the sun as Earth. One of the images released today shows a surprising view of an “echo” of infrared light surrounding an exploded star. The echo was etched in the clouds of gas and dust when the flash of light from the supernova explosion heated surrounding clouds. At least 100 papers on the results from the WISE survey already have been published. More discoveries are expected now that astronomers have access to the whole sky as seen by the spacecraft.

“With the release of the all-sky catalog and atlas, WISE joins the pantheon of great sky surveys that have led to many remarkable discoveries about the universe,” said Roc Cutri, who leads the WISE data processing and archiving effort at the Infrared and Processing Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “It will be exciting and rewarding to see the innovative ways the science and educational communities will use WISE in their studies now that they have the data at their fingertips.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., manages and operates WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was competitively selected under NASA’s Explorers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colo. Science operations, data processing and archiving take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Source: NASA/JPL

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Breaking the Thermonuclear Behavioral Mold

While black holes currently can’t be observed directly, neutron stars come close. A team of researchers have been picking apart data that came from a neutron star burst in the center of our own galaxy over a year ago. In October 2010, the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer captured one month’s worth of data on the object. Terzan 5, which hosts the T5X2 system (shown above), is a dense globular star cluster located 25,000 light-years away toward the constellation Sagittarius.

“In a single month from this unique system, we have identified behavior not seen in observations of nearly 100 bursting neutron stars during the past 30 years,” said Manuel Linares, a postdoctoral researcher at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He led a study of the RXTE data that will be published in the March 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

IGR J17480-2446 is a type of X-ray binary star system of relatively low mass. The neutron star orbits another object that is actually fairly close to our sun. The neutron star itself is referred by the shortened designation of T5X2, and this particular object has been classified as a pulsar. However, the star is behaving a bit interestingly when it reaches a higher rate of acceleration. During those time periods, the emission spikes occur much more often and are generally smaller.

The faster rate of rotation could be causing friction to occur between the star’s surface and the fuel that drives the reaction. This would cause the different types of emission patterns to occur. “We see T5X2 as a ‘model burster,’ the one that’s doing everything expected of it,” said Diego Altamirano, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands and a co-author on the paper describing the findings.

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


Linares, M., Altamirano, D., Chakrabarty, D., Cumming, A., & Keek, L. (2012). MILLIHERTZ QUASI-PERIODIC OSCILLATIONS AND THERMONUCLEAR BURSTS FROM TERZAN 5: A SHOWCASE OF BURNING REGIMES The Astrophysical Journal, 748 (2) DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/748/2/82

Linares, M., Chakrabarty, D., & van der Klis, M. (2011). ON THE COOLING TAILS OF THERMONUCLEAR X-RAY BURSTS: THE IGR J17480–2446 LINK The Astrophysical Journal, 733 (2) DOI: 10.1088/2041-8205/733/2/L17

Chakraborty, M., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2011). X-RAY BURSTS FROM THE TERZAN 5 TRANSIENT IGR J17480-2446: NUCLEAR RATHER THAN GRAVITATIONAL The Astrophysical Journal, 730 (2) DOI: 10.1088/2041-8205/730/2/L23

NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2012, March 09). NASA. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from

Cassini Spies Wave Rattling Jet Stream on Jupiter

New movies of Jupiter are the first to catch an invisible wave shaking up one of the giant planet’s jet streams, an interaction that also takes place in Earth’s atmosphere and influences the weather. The movies, made from images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft when it flew by Jupiter in 2000, are part of an in-depth study conducted by a team of scientists and amateur astronomers led by Amy Simon-Miller at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and published in the April 2012 issue of Icarus.

“This is the first time anyone has actually seen direct wave motion in one of Jupiter’s jet streams,” says Simon-Miller, the paper’s lead author. “And by comparing this type of interaction in Earth’s atmosphere to what happens on a planet as radically different as Jupiter, we can learn a lot about both planets.”

Like Earth, Jupiter has several fast-moving jet streams that circle the globe. Earth’s strongest and best known jet streams are those near the north and south poles; as these winds blow west to east, they take the scenic route, wandering north and south. What sets these jet streams on their meandering paths-and sometimes makes them blast Florida and other warm places with frigid air-are their encounters with slow-moving waves in Earth’s atmosphere, called Rossby waves.

In contrast, Jupiter’s jet streams “have always appeared to be straight and narrow,” says co-author John Rogers, who is the Jupiter Section Director of the British Astronomical Association, London, U.K., and one of the amateur astronomers involved in this study.

Rossby waves were identified on Jupiter about 20 years ago, in the northern hemisphere. Even so, the expected meandering winds could not be traced directly, and no evidence of them had been found in the southern hemisphere, which puzzled planetary scientists.

To get a more complete view, the team analyzed images taken by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and Cassini, as well as a decade’s worth of observations made by amateur astronomers and compiled by the JUPOS project.

The movies zoom in on a single jet stream in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. A line of small, dark, v-shaped “chevrons” has formed along one edge of the jet stream and zips along west to east with the wind. Later, the well-ordered line starts to ripple, with each chevron moving up and down (north and south) in turn. And for the first time, it’s clear that Jupiter’s jet streams, like Earth’s, wander off course.

“That’s the signature of the Rossby wave,” says David Choi, the postdoctoral fellow at NASA Goddard who strung together about a hundred Cassini images to make each time-lapse movie. “The chevrons in the fast-moving jet stream interact with the slower-moving Rossby wave, and that’s when we see the chevrons oscillate.”

The team’s analysis also reveals that the chevrons are tied to a different type of wave in Jupiter’s atmosphere, called a gravity inertia wave. Earth also has gravity inertia waves, and under proper conditions, these can be seen in repeating cloud patterns.

“A planet’s atmosphere is a lot like the string of an instrument,” says co-author Michael D. Allison of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “If you pluck the string, it can resonate at different frequencies, which we hear as different notes. In the same way, an atmosphere can resonate with different modes, which is why we find different kinds of waves.”

Characterizing these waves should offer important clues to the layering of the deep atmosphere of Jupiter, which has so far been inaccessible to remote sensing, Allison adds.

Crucial to the study was the complementary information that the team was able to retrieve from the detailed spacecraft images and the more complete visual record provided by amateur astronomers. For example, the high resolution of the spacecraft images made it possible to establish the top speed of the jet stream’s wind, and then the amateur astronomers involved in the study looked through the ground-based images to find variations in the wind speed.

The team also relied on images that amateur astronomers had been gathering of a large, transient storm called the South Equatorial Disturbance. This visual record dates back to 1999, when members of the community spotted the most recent recurrence of the storm just south of Jupiter’s equator. Analysis of these images revealed the dynamics of this storm and its impact on the chevrons. The team now thinks this storm, together with the Great Red Spot, accounts for many of the differences noted between the jet streams and Rossby waves on the two sides of Jupiter’s equator.

“We are just starting to investigate the long-term behavior of this alien atmosphere,” says co-author Gianluigi Adamoli, an amateur astronomer in Italy. “Understanding the emerging analogies between Earth and Jupiter, as well as the obviously profound differences, helps us learn fundamentally what an atmosphere is and how it can behave.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

For information about Cassini, visit: and

Source: NASA/JPL

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


Simon-Miller, A., Rogers, J., Gierasch, P., Choi, D., Allison, M., Adamoli, G., & Mettig, H. (2012). Longitudinal variation and waves in Jupiter’s south equatorial wind jet Icarus, 218 (2), 817-830 DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2012.01.022

New Report: The Damaging Effects of Research Misconduct

New report examines the distinct costs caused by the rise in plagiarism, falsified research and other scholarly misconduct

Turnitin, creators of iThenticate and the leader in plagiarism prevention, today announced the release of a new report titled, “True Costs of Research Misconduct.” The report explores the reasons for the dramatic rise in research misconduct over the past decade and defines four distinct categories of damages caused by research misconduct—individual, brand, capital and human.

To download this free report, visit:

“Research misconduct often creates a ripple effect of costly damages that impacts organizations and the general public—ranging from lawsuits to revoked PhDs to misdiagnosis,” said Chris Cross, general manager of iThenticate. “This report calls attention to the importance of establishing preventative measures that will contain a growing and concerning problem.”

Due to the growth of the researcher population and a growing pressure to ‘publish or perish,’ more researchers have taken to cutting corners, resulting in falsified research, fraudulent data, paraphrasing, duplication and blatant plagiarism. Publishers are responding by retracting published research, and implementing more stringent editorial processes and technology solutions.

“If a journal were to be discovered publishing erroneous material, people might think twice about the reputation of that journal,” said Benson Honig, a journal editor at Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. “Checking articles through iThenticate prior to submission can protect a journal’s reputation and ensure that only top-quality work is being published.”

iThenticate helps publishers, researchers and organizations reduce all types of misconduct by comparing manuscripts against the world’s largest comparison database—which is comprised of more than 20 billion web pages, and more than 116 million content items, including 30 million published research articles from 283 leading science, technical and medical (STM) publishers.

For more information, please visit

About Turnitin and iThenticate

Turnitin is the world’s leading provider of web-based solutions for plagiarism prevention. The company’s products include Turnitin, used by educators worldwide to check students’ papers for originality, to enable web-based peer review and for digital grading of student work. Turnitin’s iThenticate solution enables publishers, research facilities, government agencies, financial institutions, legal firms and now authors and researchers to reliably check submitted materials for originality before publication. The company’s solutions check millions of documents each month and are used in over 100 countries. Turnitin is headquartered in Oakland, CA with an international office located in Newcastle, United Kingdom. Turnitin is backed by Warburg Pincus. and

All products and services mentioned in this document are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

Source: Turnitin

Dawn Spacecraft Returns Amazing Results from Astroid Vesta

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dawn Mission Discussion (Click to Listen to Audio)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is quickly approaching the end of its 10 week mission to study the asteroid Vesta.The spacecraft has been using a framed camera to return the closest photos of an asteroid ever seen. Vesta lies in the doughnut-like ring between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta is the second heaviest object in the asteroid belt. The images have shown many small craters some measuring 10 miles in diameter and up to 6 miles deep, small grooves and lineaments. Scientists hope that when the images have been further examined they will better understand the origins of the universe. Scientists have been most amazed at the discovery of a mountain three times taller than Mount Everest. Scientists have found that over half of the surface of Vesta is so cold and receives so little sunshine that ice could have survived there for billions of years (see image below).

Early examination of the information collected by Dawn including gravity mapping, gamma rays and neutron analysis along with the photos have led scientist to believe that the asteroid was formed by a large impact. Scientists feel that ice could be present beneath the surface at either pole. However, these poles see more sunlight than the equator. Temperatures at the pole are believed to hover near minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists are using the mission to explore the role water played in early planet and asteroid formation.


Image Credit: Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

5 Cool Ways to Contribute to Space Exploration Online

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it’s easier than ever to participate in and contribute to important space research while having fun at the same time. Whether you’re interested in searching for E.T. or want to help scientists better understand stars, there are innovative sites available today that let you contribute in multiple ways.

Here are 5 examples of exciting citizen science resources I’ve found that are worth checking out. Have a read and, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not jump in and get involved? Your help is needed more than ever. Read More →

Doctor Who: Worlds in Time – Official Launch

BBC Worldwide Digital Entertainment and Games today announced the official launch of Doctor Who: Worlds in Time (, the first-ever browser-based, free-to-play multiplayer online game based on the popular television series. Created in partnership with Three Rings, the award-winning developer of persistent online worlds Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights, the game transports fans and gamers alike on a journey throughout the boundless Doctor Who universe.

Doctor Who: Worlds in Time offers something for everyone, including an intriguing narrative for sci-fi followers and serious gamers and stimulating missions for game enthusiasts looking for a quick pick-up-and-play game. After preparing the TARDIS, players travel to various immersive worlds (including Ember, Mars and New New York) and work together to defend civilization against infamous villains (including the Weeping Angels, Cybermen, Daleks, Autons, Oods and Zygons) bent on creating chaos and destruction in the universe. Since the open preview launch in December 2011, the BBC and Three Rings have worked to make more Doctor Who environments available, as well as introduce additional virtual items and create deeply engaging communal features.

Worlds in Time offers players a multitude of elements and opportunities to socialize,” said Robert Nashak, Executive Vice President, BBC Worldwide Digital Entertainment and Games. “From introducing beloved characters and progressive storylines to presenting additional guild play, our goal is to become the largest Doctor Who community ever assembled, while also being an enjoyable experience for all players.”

While Doctor Who: Worlds in Time is free-to-play, ,players can enrich their gameplay and hasten their progress through the purchase of Chronons, which help them to customize their avatars, complete mini-games, build new contraptions and more.

“I have been a fan of Doctor Who since I was a child, so developing this game with BBC Worldwide is a dream come true,” said Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings Design, Inc. “Like the Doctor, we have our own mission, to provide Doctor Who fans an experience matched only by the wondrous TV series, and casual gamers a warm opportunity to discover the marvelous world for themselves. It’s exciting to see the Doctor Who universe come to life in such a unique way.”

Doctor Who, one of BBC Worldwide’s flagship brands, is the longest-running science fiction series in the world and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013. It’s the story of the Doctor, the mysterious traveller in time and space, who has saved the universe so many times. The Doctor is a Time Lord, one of a legendary race of powerful beings whose job it is to observe and record, but never interfere. 2011 was the biggest year ever for Doctor Who on BBC AMERICA with record ratings and mass critical acclaim. The series broadcasts in more than 70 million homes and On Demand across all major digital platforms.

Source: BBC Worldwide

Let’s Explore Solar Tornadoes

The sun has been experiencing its own tornadoes of late (what a sight that must be up close). The tornadoes consisting of super hot plasma are larger than the entire planet Earth! In fact, astronomers with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory believe the tornadoes are thousands of miles tall. They follow the sun’s magnetic field and scientists theorize that the magnetic field acts like a spring pushing the plasma upward and causing it to expand. Read More →