Sunday, 13 July 2014


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Best Space Pictures: Typhoons Whirl, Flares Unfurl, and Galaxies Swirl
By Dan Vergano,
National Geographic News, 11 July 2014.

A storm startles space station astronauts, radio signals surprise astronomers, and the mystery of dust finds an answer in the week's best space pictures.

1. NASA Spots a Super Typhoon

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"Watch out, Japan!" said European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst after taking this July 7 picture of Super Typhoon Neoguri from the International Space Station.

The super typhoon lashed Okinawa this week, and at the time the photo was taken, was producing 150-mile-an-hour (240-kilometre-an-hour) winds.

The storm damaged buildings, cancelled flights, and is linked to one drowning; it has since lost its strength.

2. Summer Solar Flare Strikes

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The space weather monitoring spacecraft watches the sun closely for such outbursts. High temperature flares often precede solar storms, which can discombobulate satellites and disrupt radio communications on Earth.

No signs of a solar storm have followed this flare, however, so far. That's a disappointment for anyone hoping to see northern lights, which are triggered by solar storms interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. But the sun is still in the maximum phase of its 11-year cycle of solar activity, so more storms are likely still ahead.

3. World Orbits Twin Star Solar System

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A newly discovered alien world - a surprise to astronomers - calmy orbits one star in the binary stellar system depicted in this July 3 rendering.

Astronomers have discovered more than 1,000 planets orbiting nearby stars in recent decades, but few orbiting double stars. The newly discovered planet follows an Earth-like orbit, but its dim star doesn't provide it with enough warmth to support life. (Related: "Goldilocks Worlds: Just Right for Life?")

Nevertheless, astronomers suggest that finding such a planet in a stable orbit within a double star system is good news. Since binary stars are very common, the discovery expands the number of places where they might look for habitable worlds in the future.

4. ‘Solar Twin' Swims Beside the Swan

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A "solar twin" resembling the sun in looks and age rests in the crosshairs of this July 10 view of the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.

The look-alike 'alter ego' sun is just one of 22 such stars reported by the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics astronomers in a new Astrophysical Journals Letters study. The finds mark new advances in determining the spin rate of distant stars, a marker for their age and behaviour.

5. Dust Scatters in Supernova Blast

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"We are stardust," Joni Mitchell sang. But where did all that stardust come from? The source is stellar explosions like the one depicted in this July 9 image.

How that dust survived the heat of a supernova explosion became a bit clearer in supernova observations reported in the journal Nature this week by an international astronomy team.

The dust grains turn out to be larger than expected in supernova blasts, which allows them to ride out the explosions.

6. Mystery Radio Pulse Puzzles Astronomers

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A brief radio pulse from outside the Milky Way, its origin pinpointed in this July 10 picture, has astronomers puzzled.

Puerto Rico's massive Arecibo Observatory radar telescope recorded the "fast radio pulse" lasting only a few thousandths of a second in 2012. It was reported this week in The Astrophysical Journalby an international astronomy team.

As many as 10,000 such signals may strike the Earth every day, but only a few get recorded. They may originate, radio astronomers suggest, from mergers of exotic neutron stars or evaporating black holes outside our galaxy.

7. Merging Galaxies Bend Light

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A blue ring of light from more distant galaxies forms a halo around a galactic merger, spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope in this July 10 picture.

At the centre of the circle, the 100,000-light-year-long merger of two galaxies "looks like a string of pearls twisted into a corkscrew shape," says a space telescope institute statement.

The intense gravity of two massive galaxies merging actually bends light from the more distant galaxies behind them, and increases their brightness like a lens. The effect also stretches out and distorts their appearance like a funhouse mirror, creating the blue halo surrounding the cosmic smash-up.

Such gravitational lenses were predicted by Einstein, and are used by astronomers to examine galaxies from the most distant reaches of the cosmos. (Related: "Astronomers Solve Mystery of Superbright Supernovas.")

Top image: Super Typhoon Neoguri. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst, via ESA/Facebook.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Top image added.]

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