pan starrs


More Than Stars: The Milky Way’s Dust Mapped In 3D For The First Time Ever

“But the Milky Way is more than just stars, it’s also full of gas, plasma, and – most importantly – light-blocking dust. This dust indicates where clumped neutral atoms are, reddening the stars behind it, but not in front of it. Where the dust is coolest and densest, future stars will someday form. Preferentially blocking bluer light, this dust distorts our view of any background objects.”

Wherever we look in the night sky, we don’t just observe the background sources of light shining our way, but also the effects of all the matter in between those distant sources and our eyes. Since all of that inbound light needs to pass through a portion of the Milky Way on its way to our eyes, it’s vital that we understand how that light is distorted by our own galaxy. That means we need an understanding of the dust in our own neighborhood. In the past, that meant using a variety of models, but for the first time, a 3D map of the Milky Way’s dust has been constructed. This will not only allow for a better calibration of distant objects – such as galaxies, supernovae and anything we’d use to measure dark energy – but it uncovers some surprises about the fundamental nature of dust itself.

Come read, and see, the spectacular story of this unprecedented cosmic map in pictures, videos and no more than 200 words on today’s Mostly Mute Monday!


Today in Pop Culture History
February 7, 1964

Legendary heartthrobs, The Beatles, arrive in the United States for the first time. I wanna hold your hand…

Food for Thought

A computer simulation of the distribution of ‘dark matter’ in the universe. Dark matter emits no light or electromagnetic radiation, so it is difficult to detect direct evidence of its existence. WIMPs might be the key PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday June 17, 2010. The Pan-STARRS sky survey telescope, known as PS1, will enable scientists to better understand the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, the material that is thought to account for much of the mass of the universe but has never been proven to exist. See PA story SCIENCE Telescope. Photo credit should read: Boylan-Kolchin/The Virgo Consortium/Durham University/PA Wire
Read more:

A Hubble telescope image showing what astronomers think may be a 'ghostly ring of dark matter’ that formed many years ago during a titanic collision between two galaxy clusters. Credit: ESA/NASA/HST

Here’s the food:

What if we have it backwards? Does the existence of gravity cause the existence of matter under certain circumstances?

Have a nice millennium and sweet dreams.
JN, Ph7.5

Close Comet and Large Magellanic Cloud : Sporting a surprisingly bright, lovely green coma Comet 252P/Linear poses next to the Large Magellanic Cloud in this southern skyscape. The stack of telephoto exposures was captured on March 16 from Penwortham, South Australia. Recognized as a Jupiter family periodic comet, 252P/Linear will come close to our fair planet on March 21, passing a mere 5.3 million kilometers away. Thats about 14 times the Earth-Moon distance. In fact, it is one of two comets that will make remarkably close approaches in the next few days as a much fainter Comet Pan-STARRS on March 22. The two have extremely similar orbits, suggesting they may have originally been part of the same comet. Sweeping quickly across the sky because of their proximity to Earth, both comets will soon move into northern skies. via NASA


Nothing Escapes From A Black Hole, And Now Astronomers Have Proof

“Our work implies that some, and perhaps all, black holes have event horizons and that material really does disappear from the observable universe when pulled into these exotic objects, as we’ve expected for decades. General Relativity has passed another critical test.”

Are event horizons real? With data taken from around a dozen observatories earlier this year, simultaneously, the Event Horizon Telescope is poised to put together the first-ever direct image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy Sagittarius A*. If event horizons are real, this data should be able to create the first-ever image of it, proving that nothing escapes from inside a black hole once you’ve been swallowed. But why wait? Through a very clever technique, a team of astronomers used data from the Pan-STARRS telescope to test the alternative: that there’d be a hard surface exterior to where the event horizon is supposed to be. If that were the case, stars that collided with these hard surfaces would create a transient signal in the visible and infrared, which is exactly what Pan-STARRS is sensitive to.

The lack of such signals, even though a significant number would be expected, shows that the alternative to event horizons cannot stand. Event horizons are real, and now we have indirect proof!

The image you’re looking at shows what many astronomers now think is a planet… without a solar system.

As I described earlier, we don’t think planets form without solar systems. How could this planet have drifted into interstellar space?

Jupiter might give us a clue. This massive planet’s shown the ability to use gravitational power to fling things to and fro - sometimes into interstellar space.

NASA even uses Jupiter’s massive gravitational power to speed spacecraft into distant places instead of using fuel.

Detecting these dark and lonely places is hard. The most effective method is by using long-wavelength light: infrared.

Based on lessons attained deep below the surface of Earth’s oceans, we have another wild idea regarding these rogue planets.

They could host extra terrestrial life.

Hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor spray fumes of energy up into the oceans above. It comes from when the planet formed and has been constantly fueling the oceans with energy since its inception 4.5 billion years ago.

Just as much life below the ocean surface doesn’t need sunlight to live… it’s entirely within the realms of possibility that something might be thriving in the darkness of interstellar space living off the energy and heat contained within the planet.

In 2018 the next generation of powerful space telescopes will be launched into orbit: the James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope will have power most potently in the infrared range of light.

Could it be that when this telescope goes up and we point it into the black emptiness of space, our sight will fill with a whole new magnitude of life-bearing worlds? Could these planets even be as common as the stars themselves?

I’m humbled and excited to be a part of this new era of exploration.

(Image Credit: N. Metcalfe & Pan-STARRS 1 Science Consortium)


Pan-STARRS solves the biggest problem facing every astronomer

“The science that came out of it alone is staggering. Nobody has had as much astronomical data in all of history as what Pan-STARRS has produced. They’ve discovered about 3,000 new near-Earth objects; tens of thousands of asteroids in the main belt, approximately 300 Kuiper belt objects (about a third of all the Kuiper belt objects ever discovered), and imaged a total of more than three billion verified objects. For those of you wondering, there’s no evidence for or against Planet Nine in the data, but the Pan-STARRS data does support that our Solar System ejected a fifth gas giant in its distant past.”

If you want to observe the night sky, it’s not quite as simple as pointing your telescope and collecting photons. You have to calibrate your data, otherwise your interpretation of what you’re looking at could be skewed by gas, dust, the atmosphere or other intervening factors that you’ve failed to consider. Without a proper calibration, you don’t know how reliable what you’re looking at is. The previous best calibration was the Digitized Sky Survey 2, which went down to 13 millimagnitudes, or an accuracy of 1.2%. Just a few weeks ago, Pan-STARRS released the largest astronomy survey results of all-time: 2 Petabytes of data. It quadruples the accuracy of every calibration we’ve ever had, and that’s before you even get into the phenomenal science it’s uncovered.

Come learn how it’s solved the biggest problem facing every astronomer, and why observational astronomy will never be the same!

Asteroid to Pass Near Earth on Halloween

This Halloween, the Earth will have a visitor nearly on its doorstep. But it won’t be looking for candy or tossing an egg at our windows—it’s asteroid 2015 TB145, and its flyby, while close, is no reason to be scared.

The visitor was discovered earlier this month with the help of the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 telescope, part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program, and is an unexpected boon to asteroid researchers.

“Every close-up view of an asteroid tells us more about their structure and composition, information we will need to someday deflect a real threat”, says Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Curator Denton Ebel.

Since TB145 will be passing the Earth just a little farther than the orbit of the Moon—almost close enough to shout “trick or treat!”—researchers are aiming to learn everything they can about the 400-foot-wide object while the chance presents itself. It likely won’t be visible to the naked eye, but NASA is preparing to get high-resolution looks at the object as it nears Earth using radar and optical imaging.

“The close approach of 2015 TB145 at about 1.3 times the distance of the Moon’s orbit, coupled with its size, suggests it will be one of the best asteroids for radar imaging we’ll see for several years,” Lance Brenner, the head of NASA’s asteroid research program, said in a statement. The unexpected viewing is a great chance to learn more about asteroids, as the next appearance of an object of comparable size so close to Earth is not anticipated until 2027.

Until then, the Museum offers plenty of other ways to learn about asteroids, including a new series of video explainers featuringDr. Ebel. You can view the latest, which details the largest asteroids to ever hit the Earth, below:

Learn more about near-earth asteroids. 

Found: Mysterious asteroid falling apart at a rate of 1 mile per hour

Peering deep into the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, scientists have spotted the first disintegrating space rock ever observed.

The rock is crumbing slowly – its disparate pieces gliding gently away from each other at the sluggish rate of one mile an hour, slower than human walking speed.

The strange space rock first caught scientists’ attention in September when the Catalina and Pan STARRS sky survey telescopes detected what looked like an unusually fuzzy object on the far side of the asteroid belt.

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