Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

NASA's next exoplanet hunter (TESS)  [image credit: MIT]

NASA’s next exoplanet hunter (TESS)
[image credit: MIT]

Try to imagine Saturn and Uranus orbiting the Sun in 8 and 12 days respectively. Far-fetched? In our solar system, yes, but something very similar has been observed in an exoplanetary star system, as was recently discussed by scientist and blogger Hugh Osborn, one of the co-authors of a study of the surprising 2-planet system.

In his blog post, Osborn notes re the March 2015 solar eclipse:
Calculating something so far ahead seems like an impressive feat but in fact astronomers can precisely work out exactly when and where eclipses will occur for not just the next hundred, but the next million years. Such is the way for most transiting exoplanets too, the calculations for which could probably be valid in thousands of years.

But a new planetary system, discovered by a team that includes Warwick astronomers (including me), doesn’t yet play by these rules. It consists of two planets orbiting their star, a late K star smaller than our sun, in periods of 7.9 and 11.9 days. The pair have radii 7- and 4-larger than Earth, putting them both between the sizes of Uranus and Saturn. They are the 4th and 5th planets to be confirmed in data from K2, the rejuvenated Kepler mission that monitors tens of thousands of stars looking for exoplanetary transits. (36 other planet candidates, including KIC201505350b & c, have been released previously).

But it is their orbits, rather than planetary characteristics, that have astronomers most excited. “The periods are almost exactly in a ratio of 1:1.5” explains Dave Armstrong, lead author of the study. This can be seen directly in how the star’s brightness changes over time. This lightcurve appears to have three dips of different depths, marked here by green, red and purple dips. ”Once every three orbits of the inner planet and two orbits of the outer planet, they transit at the same time”, causing the deep purple transits.


Things that wink in the night


Analysis of Moon impact flashes detected during the 2012 and 2013 Perseids
José M. Madiedo, José L. Ortiz, Faustino Organero, Leonor Ana-Hernández, Fernando Fonseca, Nicolás Morales and Jesús Cabrera-Caño
A&A, 577 (2015) A118
Published online: 13 May 2015
DOI: (open access on registration)

We present the results of our Moon impact flash detection campaigns performed around the maximum activity period of the Perseid meteor shower in 2012 and 2013. Just one flash produced by a Perseid meteoroid was detected in 2012 because of very unfavorable geometric conditions, but 12 flashes were confirmed in 2013. The visual magnitude of the flashes ranged between 6.6 and 9.3. A luminous efficiency of 1.8×10 -3 has been estimated for meteoroids from this stream. According to this value, impactor masses would range between 1.9 and 190 g. In addition, we propose a criterion for establishing, from a statistical point of view, the likely origin of impact flashes recorded on the lunar surface.


Not this time [credit:]

Not this time [credit:]

Daily Telegraph report:
Scientists monitoring an Australian radio telescope have discovered that a series of strange signals which have baffled astrophysicists for 17 years were caused by the facility’s kitchen microwave being opened while in use.

The finding was made by Emily Petroff, a PhD student, who set up an interference monitor at the site to investigate the signals, known as perytons, which were thought to be from space but were also known – somewhat unusually – to be detected only during business hours.


Hubble telescope reaches 25 year milestone

Posted: April 21, 2015 by oldbrew in Astronomy, innovation

Hubble telescope orbiting Earth [credit: NASA]

Hubble telescope orbiting Earth [credit: NASA]

Hubble, the first telescope to revolutionize modern astronomy and change our view of the universe by offering glimpses of distant galaxies, marks its 25th year in space this week, reports

“Hubble absolutely has changed the way humans look at the universe and our place in it,” said astronomer Jennifer Wiseman, one of the telescope’s senior scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“It shows us that the universe has been changing over time, that stars in fact are an integral part of producing the type of element that we need for life, for planets, for our well-being,” she told AFP.


Super-sized exoplanet rings [credit: Ron Miller / Astronomy Now]

Super-sized exoplanet rings [credit: Ron Miller / Astronomy Now]

They say ‘the diameter of the ring system is nearly 120 million kilometres’. Imagine the forces in play to keep all that in order. Astronomy Now reports:

Astronomers at the Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands, and the University of Rochester, USA, have discovered that the ring system that they see eclipse the very young Sun-like star J1407 is of enormous proportions, much larger and heavier than the ring system of Saturn. The ring system — the first of its kind to be found outside our Solar System — was discovered in 2012 by a team led by Rochester’s Eric Mamajek.

A new analysis of the data, led by Leiden’s Matthew Kenworthy, shows that the ring system consists of over 30 rings, each of them tens of millions of kilometres in diameter. Furthermore, they found gaps in the rings, which indicate that satellites (“exomoons”) may have formed. The result has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

Read the rest here.

Back in 2011. Tim Channon used his cycles analysis software to predict the evolution of the solar polar fields. The basis of the curve he produced is the motion of the gas giant planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. As they orbit the Sun, they force the Sun to move relative to the centre of mass of the entire solar system. We see this motion when astronomers look out into the near cosmos and observe other stars ‘wobbling’. By measuring the wobble with respect to time, they are able to deduce the mass and distance of planets orbiting those stars, even though they are too small and dim to see directly.

Tim found that our Sun’s wobble due to the gas giant planets matched the observational data of the evolution of the Solar polar magnetic fields mentioned in the post put up by Stuart ‘Oldbrew‘ yesterday.

Here’s the plot Tim put up in 2011

Evolution of combined solar polar fields (red) vs motion of Sun relative to barycentre caused by planetary motion

At the time, it looked like the data was going to diverge from the prediction, but read on below the break to see the outcome.


H/T Oldbrew.

Golden rings of star formation

NGC 3081 is seen here nearly face-on. Compared to other spiral galaxies, it looks a little different. The galaxy’s barred spiral centre is surrounded by a bright loop known as a resonance ring. This ring is full of bright clusters and bursts of new star formation.


Kepler Space Telescope [NASA]

Kepler Space Telescope [NASA]

A very interesting report of a new science paper has appeared in the New Scientist:

‘William Ditto and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, compared the two strongest oscillations, or tones, made by the variable star KIC 5520878, using observations by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. They noticed that dividing the frequency of the secondary note by that of the primary, or lowest, note gives a value near the “golden ratio” – a number that shows up often in art and nature and is close to 1.618′

So is it real or did they perhaps just imagine it?
Let’s start with the abstract :

‘The unprecedented light curves of the Kepler space telescope document how the brightness of some stars pulsates at primary and secondary frequencies whose ratios are near the golden mean, the most irrational number.’


This is a visual treat. Hubble has made a 4.3gigabyte image of Andromeda. The three minute youtube video below explores about a quarter of the rich detail. Cool music too. H/T to @karlos1705

Celestial light and earthshine

Posted: January 17, 2015 by tchannon in Astronomy, climate, Clouds, Measurement, moon, Uncertainty

This paper is about adding a further layer of correction to earthshine measurements and therefore albedo determination by terrestrial based observations.

Influence of celestial light on lunar surface brightness determinations: Application to earthshine studies
P. Thejll, H. Gleisner, C. Flynn
A&A 573 A131 (2015)
(open access with registration)


Aims. We consider the influence of celestial-sphere brightness on determinations of terrestrial albedo from earthshine intensity
measurements. In particular, the contributions from zodiacal light and starlight are considered.

Results. We find that celestial-sphere surface brightness can be so large that a considerable and unacceptable error level would have
an impact on half of typical earthshine-based albedo-determinations if left unaccounted for. Considering the empirical uncertainty on
ZL, we show that almost all our earthshine data can be used if a sky correction is made. In real observations we find up to a 1% effect
on albedo results of correcting for the celestial brightness.


Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger being given weekly whippings, as an introduction to his ten year sentence, by the oppressive regime it is his misfortune to live under, wrote in praise of the religious scholasticism which characterises islamic science institutions. This from a longer article sampling his writings in the Guardian.

In September 2011 Badawi launched a witheringly sarcastic attack on Saudi clerics after a TV preacher called for astronomers to be punished on the grounds that they encouraged scepticism about sharia law.

Actually, this venerable preacher has drawn my attention to a truth that had been hidden from me Moon_Wizardand my dear readers – namely, the existence of the so-called “Sharia astronomer”. What a wonderful appellation! In my humble experience and in the course of my not inconsiderable research into the universe, its origins and the stars, I have never once come across this term. I advise NASA to abandon its telescopes and, instead, turn to our Sharia astronomers, whose keen vision and insight surpass the agency’s obsolete telescopes.

Indeed, I advise all other scholars the world over, of whatever discipline, to abandon their studies, laboratories, research centres, places of experimentation, universities, institutes etc. and head at once to the study groups of our magnificent preachers to learn from them all about modern medicine, engineering, chemistry, microbiology, geology, nuclear physics, the science of the atom, marine sciences, the science of explosives, pharmacology, anthropology etc. – alongside astronomy, of course.


Reblogged from Ishtar’s Gate, a blog covering diverse subjects relating to antiquity, myth, culture, legend and ancient arts. Although the idea that the Aubrey holes around the outside of the stone complex have an astronomical observation and eclipse prediction purpose has been dismissed because later cremations were found in them, their number, spacing and mathematical relationship to the station stones indicates otherwise. Ishtar’s introduction follows:

This is from the book of the same title by the highly regarded Robin Heath, and it is a deeply researched and expert interpretation of the sacred geometrical azimuths and alignments of Stonehenge.

It is well established that the axis of Stonehenge aligns approximately to the midsummer rising sun azimuth. In addition, the station stone rectangle is constructed perpendicular to the axis and has a ratio of 5:12. In Megalithic yards, this is 40:96, i.e. the units of the rectangle’s ratio are expressed in 8 MY ‘quanta’.



venus-transit-2012Congratulations to Astrophysicist Ian Wilson who has had a new paper published at Pattern Recognition in Physics:
Discussion of this paper is going to be in the form of a workshop with specific objectives, and comments will be strictly moderated for relevance. The objectives will be announced by the main participants, Ian Wilson and Paul Vaughan, in their opening comments. Basically, unless you have something to contribute to the mathematical exposition, please sit this one out and watch.

This new peer-reviewed paper is available for (free) download at: . This post reproduces the one at Ian’s blog.


Exceptionally detailed image of a young star 450 light years away reveals detail of proto-planetary disc with gaps. :

This image compares the size of the Solar System with HL Tauri and its surrounding protoplanetary disc. Although the star is much smaller than the Sun, the disc around HL Tauri stretches out to almost three times as far from the star as Neptune is from the Sun.

This image compares the size of the Solar System with HL Tauri and its surrounding protoplanetary disc. Although the star is much smaller than the Sun, the disc around HL Tauri stretches out to almost three times as far from the star as Neptune is from the Sun.

HL Tauri — a young star, about 450 light-years away, which is surrounded by a dusty disc [1]. The resulting image exceeds all expectations and reveals unexpectedly fine detail in the disc of material left over from star birth. It shows a series of concentric bright rings, separated by gaps [2].

“These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disc. This is surprising since such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image,” said Stuartt Corder, ALMA Deputy Director.

When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail. HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionise theories of planet formation,” explained Catherine Vlahakis, ALMA Deputy Program Scientist and Lead Program Scientist for the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign.


imageAfter ten years, five months, four days and six and a half billion kilometres,  the Rosetta space probe has arrived in orbit around Comet 67P.


From, a new paper which looks at how dry atmosphere’s of some exoplanets could cast doubt on long cherished notions about planet formation. Current mainstream thinking is that big planets form a long way out and migrate inwards. Perhaps the opposite may be the case, and ‘hot jupiters’ form near the parent star and increase the size of their orbits asthay gain angular moentum. Supporting this possibility, a recent paper by Poppenhaeger on the electromagnetic coupling of proto-planetary discs with the host star posit a slowing the stellar rotation and a shift of its angular momentum to the forming planets.

hd189733Scientists searching for worlds outside of the Solar System say that three such planets — distant gas giants that resemble Jupiter — are surprisingly dry.

The atmospheres of these exoplanets, known as ‘hot Jupiters’, contain between one-tenth and one-thousandth water vapour than predicted, measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope show. The findings, published 24 July in Astrophysical Journal Letters1, are at odds with theories of how planets form.

Madhusudhan thinks that it is possible, but not likely, that clouds are skewing his results. The particles would have to be high in the atmosphere, above the water vapour, for this to be true. That would place the clouds in the thinnest part of each exoplanet’s atmosphere, but they could be too heavy to stay aloft. The clouds would also need to survive in the wide range of temperatures the three planets’ atmospheres span — 900–2,200 ºC — which models can’t yet explain. “There is just no candidate cloud composition or physics that can do it,” he says.


Thanks to commenter ‘psc3113′ for finding the concluding part of HC Russells’ paper on a lunar 19 year cycle in drought records, taken from The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939)  Saturday 4 July 1896. At the conclusion of the article, the probably cause of the 19 year cycle identified is elucidated.

Periodicity of Good and Bad Seasons
(Continued from last Week.)

Hurricanes Come in Droughts.
I should like it to be clearly understood that I do not mean ordinary hurricanes, which are as much parts of ordinary weather conditions in some parts of the world as our southerly winds are here. What I mean are extraordinary hurricanes, those that come at long intervals to terrify mankind by their power for destruction. These are connected with droughts, and, therefore should be discussed here. I had long since observed that the connection between the two was obvious enough sometimes, and during the past year I was reminded of it very often by the frequent reports of heavy gales met with by ships coming to this port, indicating great atmospheric energy. Then on the 3rd January, 1803, came the hurricane over the Tongan group of islands, and not one of the vessels in the harbour rode out the storm; every one of them was wrecked in the harbour before morning, and the wind was of such exceptional violence that after it was over the islands looked as if they had been bombarded.

Then I turned to storms on this coast, some of which were of terrible violence. And as I write, the 28th ‘May, we have the report of a terrible cyclone in America, by which three of the States, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were damaged and the city of St. Louis wrecked. and 1300 people killed by falling buildings, and damage to property caused to the extent, estimated, of twenty million dollars; another fragment of the present D drought.



A newly discovered planet pair orbiting a red dwarf a mere 13 light years from our solar system is in a near 2:5 orbital resonance. From National Geographic:

An international team of astronomers reports the discovery of two new planets orbiting Kapteyn’s star, a nearby red dwarf with a long history. One of its newly discovered worlds, dubbed Kapteyn b, circles the star at the right distance to allow seas to survive on its surface, where water is seen as a key ingredient of life as we know it.



Time flies on beta Pictoris b, a behemoth gas planet orbiting a young neighbor star about 63 light-years from Earth.

A day there lasts just eight hours, making beta Pic b a faster spinner than even Jupiter, which rotates in 10 hours. Pic b is the first planet beyond the solar system to have its rotational rate clocked, scientists said in an article published in this week’s Nature.

Technically, what is interesting is that it was so easy to do these observations,

lead researcher Ignas Snellen, with Leiden University, Netherlands, wrote in an email to Discovery News.


lollianus-mavortiusQuintus Flavius Maesius Egnatius Lollianus signo Mavortius (fl. 330 – 356) was a politician of the Roman Empire. Known as Roman consul Lolliano Mavorzio in the local dialect, an acephalous [headless] statue of Mavortius was discovered in Puteoli, then Pozzuoli (near Naples, Italy) in the C18th. He was Governor of Campania from 328 to 335, comes Orientis from 330 to 336, Proconsul of Africa from 334 to 337, Praefectus urbi of Rome in 342,Consul in 355 and Praetorian prefect of Italy for Constantius II between 355 and 356.

Being a well travelled man who had probably conversed with the scribes of   the Serapeum, had made many naked eye observations of the heavens, and taking a strong interest in the subject himself, he encouraged the senatorial writer Julius Firmicus Maternus to write an astrological essay, the Matheseos libri VIII. It is among the last extensive handbooks of a “scientific” astrology that circulated in the West before the appearance of Arabic texts in the 12th century. According to Firmicus Maternus, the system of horoscopic astrology was given early on to an Egyptian pharaoh named Nechepso and his priest Petosiris. The Hermetic texts were also put together during this period.