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The backyard astronomer: Starbirth, and how to see it – Straight.com

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The stars we see on a clear night have been burning for millions or billions of years. But how did they come to be?

Stars, like our sun, are created from vast interstellar clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. These stellar objects can measure more than 100 light years across. (A light year is the distance light travels in one year; because light moves at a speed of approximately 300,000 kilometres per second, a light year is almost 9.5 trillion kilometres.) Over time, smaller clouds in the nebula might rub against each other, or the shockwave of a nearby supernova might disturb the cloud to start a slight spinning motion.

As the cloud rotates, it picks up speed as more gas starts condensing and collapsing toward the middle, and as gravity accelerates the process. The core continually gets hotter and grows, much like the snowball effect. Over time, the star grows to a critical mass, temperatures in the core reach about 15,000,000 °C, and the star lights up. It took our sun about 50 million years to grow.

These regions of starbirth are also called “stellar nurseries”, and you can easily see one tonight. It is called the Orion Nebula, or M42. The constellation Orion the Hunter now rises in the east a couple of hours after sunset. Locate the iconic three stars in a row that form his belt. Look down the imaginary sword hanging off the belt and you will see a hazy patch of light. This is where thousands of stars will eventually be born, but the process will still take millions of years.

The Orion Nebula is located about 1,500 light years from us and measures about 30 light years across. The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged small cocoons of material showing the baby stars forming in the swirling cloud of dust and gas. As with many stars, possible exoplanets will be born from the leftover dusty material. This is the same process our solar system followed in the early stages of its birth.

Our Milky Way contains hundreds of these emission nebulae, but a telescope is required to locate and observe them. M42 is an easy target for the unaided eye or binoculars. It is also well placed on the celestial equator, allowing both the northern and southern hemispheres to see it.

Till next time, clear skies.

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2.8-pound meteorite from space crashes roof of Canadian woman’s home, falls on bed – The Tribune India

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Tribune Web Desk

Chandigarh, October 16

Ruth Hamilton (66) had a disturbed awakening on October 3 when a large meteorite plunged from space, through her roof and landed in her bed.

Ruth, resident of Golden, British Columbia, woke up to the sound of a crash and her dog barking on October 3 around 11.35 pm.

Speaking with Canadian Press, she said: “I’ve never been so scared in my life, adding that, “I wasn’t sure what to do so I called 911 and, when I was speaking with the operator, I flipped over my pillow and saw that a rock had slipped between two pillows.”

She told CTV News: “I didn’t feel it.”

“It never touched me. I had debris on my face from the drywall, but not a single scratch.”

A police officer arrived on the scene, but suspected the object that landed in Hamilton’s bed was from a nearby construction site.

“He called the [construction site] and they said they hadn’t done a blast but that they had seen an explosion in the sky and, right then and there, we realised it was a meteorite,” she told the Canadian Press.

It turns out that the 2.8-pound space rock, about the size of a small cabbage, was part of a meteor shower identified by Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary, and his colleagues.

The group said the trajectory of the meteorite that hit Hamilton’s house would have made it visible throughout southeastern British Columbia and central and southern Alberta.

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NASA to launch first space probe to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

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NASA is set on Saturday to launch a first-of-its kind mission, dubbed Lucy, to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, two large clusters of space rocks that scientists believe are remnants of primordial material that formed the solar system’s outer planets.

The space probe, packed inside a special cargo capsule, is due for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT), carried aloft by an Atlas V rocket from  United Launch Alliance (UAL), a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.

If all goes according to plan, Lucy will be hurled into space on a 12-year expedition to study a record number of asteroids. It will be the first to explore the Trojans, thousands of rocky objects orbiting the sun in two swarms – one ahead of the path of giant gas planet Jupiter and one behind it.

The largest known Trojan asteroids, named for the warriors of Greek mythology, are believed to measure as much as 225 kilometers (140 miles) in diameter.

Scientists hope Lucy’s close-up fly-by of seven Trojans will yield new clues to how the solar system’s planets came to be formed some 4.5 billion years ago and what shaped their present configuration.

Believed to be rich in carbon compounds, the asteroids may even provide new insights into the origin of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.

“The Trojan asteroids are leftovers from the early days of our solar system, effectively the fossils of planet formation,” principal mission investigator Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, was quoted by NASA as saying.

No other single science mission has been designed to visit as many different objects independently orbiting the sun in the history of space exploration, NASA said.

As well as the Trojans, Lucy will do a fly-by of an asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, called DonaldJohanson in honor of the lead discoverer of the fossilized human ancestor known as Lucy, from which the NASA mission takes its name. The Lucy fossil, unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, was in turn named for the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Lucy the asteroid probe will make spaceflight history in another way. Following a route that circles back to Earth three times for gravitational assists, it will be the first spacecraft ever to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system, according to NASA.

The probe will use rocket thrusters to maneuver in space and two rounded solar arrays, each the width of a school bus, to recharge batteries that will power the instruments contained in the much smaller central body of the spacecraft.

 

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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Darwin family microscope to be sold at auction

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A microscope Charles Darwin gave his son Leonard and which has remained in the family for nearly 200 years is headed for auction in December, and is expected to fetch up to $480,000.

The instrument was designed by Charles Gould for the firm Cary around 1825 and is one of six surviving microscopes associated with the British naturalist, according to auction house Christie’s.

The date of its manufacture coincides with the time when Darwin was studying zoophytes, organisms such as coral and sea anemone.

“It is just incredibly spine tingling to look through this and see the microscopic world that Darwin would have seen in the 1820s and 30s,” James Hyslop, Head of Department, Scientific Instruments, Globes & Natural History, at Christie’s, told Reuters.

“Later in his life in 1858, there’s a wonderful letter that he writes to his eldest son saying young Lenny was dissecting at his microscope and he said ‘Oh Papa, I should be so glad of this for my whole life’. It’s wonderful to have that family connexion of Charles Darwin just before he becomes internationally famous.”

Darwin published his groundbreaking work “On the Origin of Species” in 1859.

The microscope will be offered at Christie’s Valuable Books & Manuscripts auction on Dec. 15, and has a price estimate of 250,000 – 350,000 pounds ($343,050 – $480,270).

“Charles Darwin is one of the biggest names in the Science, and collectors for Darwiniana (relating to Darwin) are truly international in breadth,” Hyslop said.

($1 = 0.7288 pounds)

 

(Reporting by Marissa Davison; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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