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Pulverized Planet Dust May Lie Around Double Stars

Copyright NASA

Tight double-star systems might not be the best places for life to spring up, according to a new study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The infrared observatory spotted a surprisingly large amount of dust around three mature, close-orbiting star pairs. Where did the dust come from? Astronomers say it might be the aftermath of tremendous planetary collisions.

“This is real-life science fiction,” said Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. “Our data tell us that planets in these systems might not be so lucky — collisions could be common. It’s theoretically possible that habitable planets could exist around these types of stars, so if there happened to be any life there, it could be doomed.”

Drake is the principal investigator of the research, published in the Aug.19 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The particular class of binary, or double, stars in the study are about as snug as stars get. Named RS Canum Venaticorums, or RS CVns for short, they are separated by only about two million miles (3.2 million kilometers), or two percent of the distance between Earth and our sun. The stellar pairs orbit around each other every few [...]

Astronomers Discover New Star-Forming Regions

Copyright NASA

Astronomers studying the Milky Way have discovered a large number of previously unknown regions where massive stars are being formed. Their discovery, made with the help of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, provides important new information about the structure of our home galaxy and promises to yield new clues about its composition. The star-forming regions the astronomers sought, called H II regions, are sites where hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons by intense radiation from massive, young stars. To find these regions, hidden from visible-light detection by the Milky Way’s gas and dust, the researchers used infrared and radio telescopes. “We found our targets by using the results of infrared surveys done with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and of surveys done with the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array radio telescope,” said astronomer Loren Anderson of the Astrophysical Laboratory of Marseille in France, who worked on the project. “Objects that appear bright in both the Spitzer and Very Large Array images we studied are good candidates for H II regions.” Further analysis allowed the astronomers to determine the locations of the H II regions. They found concentrations of the regions at the end of the galaxy’s central [...]

Ancient City of Galaxies Looks Surprisingly Modern

Copyright NASA

Astronomers are a bit like archeologists as they dig back through space and time searching for remnants of the early universe. In a recent deep excavation, courtesy of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers unearthed what may be the most distant, primitive cluster of galaxies ever found.

In a twist, however, this apparent ancestor to today’s “big cities” of grouped galaxies looks shockingly modern. Called CLG J02182-05102, the ancient cluster is dominated by old, red and massive galaxies, typical of present-day clusters. For example, it is similar to a young version of the Coma Cluster of today, which has had billions of more years to develop.

“We are seeing something already aged and red like a younger version of the Coma Cluster from a distant, bygone era,” said Casey Papovich, lead author of a new study and an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Papovich added, “it is as though we dug an archeological site in Rome and found pieces of modern Rome in amongst the ruins.”

ClG J02182-05102 might have indeed been ahead of its time. Just as Rome was the world’s biggest city more than [...]

Colony of Young Stars Shines in New Spitzer Image

Colony of Young Stars Shines in New Spitzer Image

Copyright www.nasa.gov

Astronomers have their eyes on a hot group of young stars, watching their every move like the paparazzi. A new infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the bustling star-making colony of the Orion nebula, situated in the hunter’s sword of the famous constellation. Like Hollywood starlets, the cosmic orbs don’t always shine their brightest, but vary over time. Spitzer is watching the stellar show, helping scientists learn more about why the stars change, and to what degree planet formation might play a role.

“This is an exploratory project. Nobody has done this before at a wavelength sensitive to the heat from dust circling around so many stars,” said John Stauffer, the principal investigator of the research at NASA’s Spitzer Science Center, located at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “We are seeing a lot of variation, which may be a result of clumps or warped structures in the planet-forming disks.”

The new image was taken after Spitzer ran out of its coolant in May 2009, beginning its extended “warm” mission. The coolant was needed to chill the instruments, but the two shortest-wavelength infrared channels still work normally at the new, warmer temperature [...]