Jan 16, 2011


Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

The Crab Nebula has surprised astronomers by shooting off mysterious flares.

One of the most well-known celestial objects still has some tricks up its sleeve, according to a new discovery of surprising gamma-ray flares coming from the famous Crab Nebula.

The Crab, long-considered such a steady celestial light that it was used to calibrate other sources, has now had three flare-ups where it brightened significantly in the gamma-ray range for a few days, astronomers report.

"Our belief of a stable Crab got smashed completely — now we have to think again," said Marco Tavani, an astronomer at the INAF-IASF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica-Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica) in Rome.

And solar flares could threaten the 2012 Olympics. Of course they could threaten far more than that.

Weather experts told the Commons science and technology committee: 'Extreme space weather events typically occur at the solar maximum, which itself follows a roughly 11-year cycle.

'The next solar maximum is expected around 2012-13 — potentially coinciding with the London Olympic Games.'

It is only the most extreme solar storms that cause chaos, and Olympic organisers do not believe there is a 'significant risk' of major disruption.

NASA has found the first evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a sun outside of our solar system.

NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. "The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."

And an amateur astronomer has discovered four planets from the comfort of his own home.

Peter Jalowiczor, 45, has never owned a telescope but still managed to provide scientists with enough information to establish the existence of four gaseous orbs outside the solar system.

The gas worker from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, has been officially named by the University of California's Lick-Carnegie Planet Search Team as the co-discoverer of planets HD31253b, HD218566b, HD177830c and HD99492c.

. . .

An overwhelmed Mr Jalowiczor said: 'I've always been interested in astronomy and I have two science degrees but to be one of the officially recognised finders of these planets is just... I get lost for words.'

Using just two home computers, he spent night after night analysing thousands of space measurements released by astronomers at the Santa Cruz-based university in 2005.

There may be a galaxy right near our own, invisible because it's almost entirely made up of dark matter.

An entire galaxy may be lurking, unseen, just outside our own, scientists announced Thursday.

The invisibility of "Galaxy X"—as the purported body has been dubbed—may be due less to its apparent status as a dwarf galaxy than to its murky location and its overwhelming amount of dark matter, astronomer Sukanya Chakrabarti speculates.

Detectable only by the effects of its gravitational pull, dark matter is an invisible material that scientists think makes up more than 80 percent of the mass in the universe.

And antimatter is apparently turning up in thunderstorms.

Scientists using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have detected beams of antimatter produced above thunderstorms on Earth, a phenomenon never seen before.

Scientists think the antimatter particles were formed inside thunderstorms in a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF) associated with lightning. It is estimated that about 500 TGFs occur daily worldwide, but most go undetected.

"These signals are the first direct evidence that thunderstorms make antimatter particle beams," said Michael Briggs, a member of Fermi's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). He presented the findings Monday, during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Astronomers claim to have found the "missing link" between the big bang and the formation of the universe.

For years scientists have known nothing about the "dark ages" of space – a period between the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and the creation of the first stars.

But Cambridge University researchers have now captured light emitted from a massive black hole to peer into this unknown portion of the history of the universe.

They discovered remnants of the first stars and evidence of the aftermath of an exploding star, which was 25 times larger than the sun.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict has proclaimed a link between the big bang and God.

God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said on Thursday.

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.

"Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God," he said in a sermon to some 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica on the feast day.

Pope Benedict has also proclaimed that the late Pope John Paul II performed a miracle as the sex abuse enabling former pope wends his way towards beatification.

Pope Benedict XVI has formally approved a miracle attributed to his late predecessor, paving the way to John Paul II's beatification on 1 May.

. . .

The Vatican credits him with the miraculous cure of a nun said to have had Parkinson's Disease.

Church officials believe that the Polish pope, who himself suffered from the condition, interceded for the miraculous cure of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a Frenchwoman in her late forties.

Catholic clergy in Spain are up in arms about a naked limbs -- naked everything, really -- in a sacrilicious calendar.

A Catholic youth group has shocked its religious superiors in Mallorca by producing a calendar that features a nude version of the passion of Christ.

The wrath of the bishop of Mallorca has fallen on the Davallament youth group from the Spanish island's town of Sant Joan after they decided to make the stripped-down version of the Easter week story to raise funds.

The calendar features a semi-naked trio of young men raising the cross on which Jesus will be crucified and a Last Supper whose protagonists wear only crotch-hugging underwear. In other shots the protagonists are entirely naked, covering their genitalia with plumed roman helmets (above).

This other act of remarkable, spiritually guided artistry remains largely overlooked.

It's the sheer size of the structure that first strikes you. Almost 40 metres (131ft) tall, its spires and giant dome tower over the surrounding apartment blocks in this Madrid suburb.

That's not unusual for a Spanish church. But this one is being built by an elderly man, almost single-handedly, out of junk.

Justo Gallego - or Don Justo, as he's known - embarked on his epic endeavour almost half a century ago.

Now 85 years old, he still has a huge amount to do.

Archaeologists have turned up the first evidence of both Stone Age residents on the Isle of Crete and ancient sea travel.

Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered what may be evidence of one of the world's first sea voyages by human ancestors, the Greek Culture Ministry said Monday. A ministry statement said experts from Greece and the U.S. have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island's south coast.

Crete has been separated from the mainland for about five million years, so whoever made the tools must have traveled there by sea (a distance of at least 40 miles). That would upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.

"The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids' cognitive abilities," the ministry statement said.

The incredible, shrinking brain:

Man's brain has been gradually shrinking over the last 20,000 years, according to a new report.

This decrease in size follows two million years during which the human cranium steadily grew in size, and it's happened all over the world, to both sexes and every race.

'Over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human male brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimetres to 1,350 cubic centimetres, losing a chunk the size of a tennis ball,' Kathleen McAuliffe writes in Discover magazine.

A thirteenth astrological sign has been announced messing up everybody's charts. I've never been gladder that I'm not an astrologer.

The star doctors say Earth is currently in a different spot in relation to the Sun, and its equatorial alignment has changed from 3,000 years ago when the study of astrology began -- back when 12 zodiac signs were assigned to 12 different periods of the year.

Those signs you were born into are different now because the Earth's wobble on its axis has created a one-month bump in the alignment of the stars, according to Kunkle.

"Because of this change of tilt, the Earth is really over here in effect and Sun is in a different constellation than it was 3,000 years ago."

More esoteric news items can always be found in the Headlines feed in the right-hand column here.

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