Celestial Event Calendar for 2014

  • January 1 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 11:14 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • January 2, 3 – Quadrantids Meteor Shower. The Quadrantids is an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It is thought to be produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. The shower runs annually from January 1-5. It peaks this year on the night of the 2nd and morning of the 3rd. The thin crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what could be an excellent show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • January 5 – Jupiter at Opposition. The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details in Jupiter’s cloud bands. A good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter’s four largest moons, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.
  • January 16 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 04:52 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Wolf Moon because this was the time of year when hungry wolf packs howled outside their camps. This moon has also been known as the Old Moon and the Moon After Yule.
  • January 30 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 21:38 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • February 14 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 23:53 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Snow Moon because the heaviest snows usually fell during this time of the year. Since hunting is difficult, this moon has also been known by some tribes as the Full Hunger Moon.
  • March 1 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 08:00 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • March 16 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 17:08 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Worm Moon because this was the time of year when the ground would begin to soften and the earthworms would reappear. This moon has also been known as the Full Crow Moon, the Full Crust Moon, and the Full Sap Moon.
  • March 20 – March Equinox. The March equinox occurs at 16:57 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • March 30 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 18:45 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • April 8 – Mars at Opposition. The red planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Mars. A medium-sized telescope will allow you to see some of the dark details on the planet’s orange surface. You may even be able to see one or both of the bright white polar ice caps.
  • April 15 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 07:42 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Pink Moon because it marked the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the first spring flowers. This moon has also been known as the Sprouting Grass Moon and the Growing Moon.
  • April 15 – Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely through the Earth’s dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, and Australia. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
  • April 22, 23 – Lyrids Meteor Shower. The Lyrids is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. The shower runs annually from April 16-25. It peaks this year on the night of the night of the 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The second quarter moon will be a slight problem this year, blocking the less bright meteors from view. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • April 29 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 06:14 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • April 29 – Annular Solar Eclipse. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away from the Earth to completely cover the Sun. This results in a ring of light around the darkened Moon. The Sun’s corona is not visible during an annular eclipse. The path of the eclipse will begin off the coast of South Africa and move across Antarctica and into the east coast of Australia. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
  • May 5, 6 – Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids is an above average shower, capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. Most of the activity is seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. It peaks this year on the night of May 5 and the morning of the May 6. The first quarter moon will set just after midnight leaving fairly dark skies for what should be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • May 10 – Saturn at Opposition. The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest moons.
  • May 10 – Astronomy Day Part 1. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. The theme of Astronomy Day is “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium. You can also find more about Astronomy Day by checking the Web site for the Astronomical League.
  • May 14 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 19:16 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
  • May 28 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 18:40 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • June 7 – Conjunction of the Moon and Mars. The Moon will pass within two degrees of the the planet Mars in the evening sky. The gibbous moon will be at magnitude -12.2 and Mars will be at magnitude -0.8. Look for both objects in the western sky just after sunset. The pair will be visible in the evening sky for about 6 hours after sunset.
  • June 13 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 04:11 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Strawberry Moon because it signaled the time of year to gather ripening fruit. It also coincides with the peak of the strawberry harvesting season. This moon has also been known as the Full Rose Moon and the Full Honey Moon.
  • June 21 – June Solstice. The June solstice occurs at 10:51 UTC. The North Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude. This is the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • June 27 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 08:08 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • July 12 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 11:25 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Buck Moon because the male buck deer would begin to grow their new antlers at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Full Thunder Moon and the Full Hay Moon.
  • July 26 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 22:42 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • July 28, 29 – Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht. The shower runs annually from July 12 to August 23. It peaks this year on the night of July 28 and morning of July 29. This should be a great year for this shower because the thin crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what should a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
Lunar Eclipse from California by steveberardi on Flickr

Lunar Eclipse from California by steveberardi on Flickr

  • August 10 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 18:09 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Sturgeon Moon because the large sturgeon fish of the Great Lakes and other major lakes were more easily caught at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon. This is also the closest and largest full Moon of the year, an annual event that has come to be known as a “supermoon” by the media. The truth is that it is only slightly larger and brighter than normal and most people are not really able to tell the difference.
  • August 12, 13 – Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24. It peaks this year on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The waning gibbous moon will block out some of the meteors this year, but the Perseids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • August 18 – Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Conjunctions are rare events where two or more objects will appear extremely close together in the night sky. The two bright planets will come unusually close to each other, only a quarter of a degree, in the early morning sky. Also, the beehive cluster in the constellation Cancer will be only 1 degree away. Look to the east just before sunrise.
  • August 25 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 14:13 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • August 29 – Neptune at Opposition. The blue giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Neptune. Due to its extreme distance from Earth, it will only appear as a tiny blue dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
  • September 9 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 01:38 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Corn Moon because the corn is harvested around this time of year. This moon is also known as the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the September equinox each year.
  • September 23 – September Equinox. The September equinox occurs at 02:29 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • September 24 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 06:14 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • October 4 – Astronomy Day Part 2. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. The theme of Astronomy Day is “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium. You can also find more about Astronomy Day by checking the Web site for the Astronomical League.
  • October 7 – Uranus at Opposition. The blue-green planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view Uranus. Due to its distance, it will only appear as a tiny blue-green dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
  • October 8 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 10:51 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Hunters Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This moon has also been known as the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon.
  • October 8 – Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely through the Earth’s dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, eastern Asia, and Australia. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
  • October 8, 9 – Draconids Meteor Shower. The Draconids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900. The shower runs annually from October 6-10 and peaks this year on the the night of the 8th and morning of the 9th. Unfortunately the glare from the full moon this year will block out all but the brightest meteors. If you are extremely patient, you may be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Draco, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • October 22, 23 – Orionids Meteor Shower. The Orionids is an average shower producing up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from October 2 to November 7. It peaks this year on the night of October 21 and the morning of October 22. This will be an excellent year for the Orionids because there will be no moon to interfere with the show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Orion, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • October 23 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 21:57 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • October 23 – Partial Solar Eclipse. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon covers only a part of the Moon, sometimes resembling a bite taken out of a cookie. A partial solar eclipse can only be safely observed with a special solar filter or by looking at the Sun’s reflection. The partial eclipse will be visible throughout most of North and Central America. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
  • November 5, 6 – Taurids Meteor Shower. The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains from Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. It peaks this year on the the night of November 5. Unfortunately the full moon this year will block out all but the brightest meteors. Those with patience may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • November 6 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 22:23 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Beaver Moon because this was the time of year to set the beaver traps before the swamps and rivers froze. It has also been known as the Frosty Moon and the Hunter’s Moon.
  • November 17, 18 – Leonids Meteor Shower. The Leonids is an average shower, producing an average of up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. The Leonids is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. The shower runs annually from November 6-30. It peaks this year on the night of the 17th and morning of the 18th. The waning crescent moon will not be much of a problem this year. Skies should be dark enough for a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • November 22 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 12:32 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • December 6 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 12:27 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Cold Moon because this is the time of year when the cold winter air settles in and the nights become long and dark. This moon has also been known as the Moon Before Yule and the Full Long Nights Moon.
  • December 13, 14 – Geminids Meteor Shower. The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17. It peaks this year on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. The waning gibbous moon will block out some of the meteors this year, but the Geminids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • December 21 – December Solstice. The December solstice occurs at 23:03 UTC. The South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its southernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south latitude. This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • December 22 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 01:36 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • December 22, 23 – Ursids Meteor Shower. The Ursids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tuttle, which was first discovered in 1790. The shower runs annually from December 17-25. It peaks this year on the the night of the 22nd. This will be one of the best years to observe the Ursids because there will be no moonlight to interfere with the show. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

The above information from Sea and Sky website.. follow some of their useful links below for more..

Total eclipse of October 27, 2004 via Fred Espenak of NASA

Total eclipse of October 27, 2004 via Fred Espenak of NASA

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Universe Feature and Star Map of the Galaxy

European Southern Observatory

17 December 2012: Astronomers from around the world have been meeting in Chile to discuss the exciting first year of scientific results from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope. ALMA started Early Science operations at the end of September 2011, and the first scientific papers have recently been appearing in refereed journals. …   Read more

This VLT image of the Thor’s Helmet Nebula was taken on the occasion of ESO’s 50th Anniversary, 5 October 2012

This VLT image of the Thor’s Helmet Nebula was taken on the occasion of ESO’s 50th Anniversary, 5 October 2012

12 December 2012: A video compilation of time-lapse footage of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is now available. The video is a collection of time-lapse shots of the ALMA site in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, showing the synchronised dance of the array’s antennas as they observe the clear night sky …      Read more

Current Playlist from ESO

Colour composite image of Centaurus A, revealing the lobes and jets emanating from the active galaxy’s central black hole.

Colour composite image of Centaurus A, revealing the lobes and jets emanating from the active galaxy’s central black hole.

The following image via ESO is a composite image of the brown dwarf object 2M1207 (centre) Picture also links to ESO’s current Star Images.  The fainter object seen near it, at an angular distance of 778 milliarcsec. Designated “Giant Planet Candidate Companion” by the discoverers, it may represent the first image of an exoplanet. read more

a brown dwarf

From NASA Oct 2012

The interstellar boundary region shields our solar system from most of the dangerous galactic cosmic radiation that otherwise would enter the solar system from interstellar space.

› Link to Media Advisory

› Link to Press Release

› Link to Feature Story

› Link to Presenter Bios

› Link to Associated Media

IBEX Full Sky Map 01.31.2012 via NASA

Color-coded full sky neutral atom map, as obtained with IBEX at energies where the interstellar wind is the brightest feature in the maps. In Earth’s orbit, where IBEX makes its observations, the maximum flow (in red) is seen to arrive from Libra instead of Scorpio because the interstellar wind is forced to curve around the Sun by gravity. Credit: NASA/Goddard/UNH

› Link to associated news item

2 Articles From New Scientist

20 December 2012

by Lisa Grossman at New Scientist (< full story link)

We’re about to get a better grasp of one of the biggest ideas in the universe:inflation. The first maps of the cosmos from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite are due out in early 2013. They should help us to hone descriptions of how, after the big bang, the universe grew from smaller than a proton into a vast expanse in less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.

The early universe was a featureless soup of hot plasma that somehow grew into the dense galaxy clusters and cosmic voids we know today. On a large scale, regions far apart from each other should look very different, according to the laws of thermodynamics. But studies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the first light to be released, some 300,000 years after the big bang – show that the universe still looks virtually the same in all directions.

Best ever map of the early universe

From 2006  by  Stephen Battersby

And the new evidence agrees that the universe went through a traumatic growth spurt before it was a billionth of a billionth of a second old

The universe went through a traumatic growth spurt before it was a billionth of a billionth of a second old, according to the latest data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).

The probe has also given physicists their first clues about what drove that frantic expansion, and revealed that the cosmic “dark age” before the first stars switched on was twice as long as previously thought.

On Thursday, the WMAP team revealed the best map ever drawn of microwaves from the early universe, showing variations in the brightness of radiation from primordial matter. The pattern of these variations fits the predictions of a physical theory called inflation, which suggests that during the first split second of existence the universe expanded incredibly fast.

The variations in the density of matter that the microwave map shows up were created by quantum fluctuations during the expansion, according to the theory. If so, then those fluctuations provided the seeds for the gravitational growth of galaxies and stars – without inflation the universe would still be a featureless cloud of gas.

^^

(Image: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

(Image: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

The white bars on this new, more detailed map of the infant universe show the polarisation direction of the oldest light, which provides clues about events in the first trillionth of a second of the universe (Image: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

new map

The latest (in 2006) WMAP data supports the idea of rapid inflation at the universe’s birth followed by much more gradual expansion

WMAP Team Releases Final Results, Based on Nine Years of Observations

Since its launch in 2001, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission has revolutionized our view of the universe, establishing a cosmological model that explains a widely diverse collection of astronomical observations. Led by Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Charles L. Bennett, the WMAP science team has determined, to a high degree of accuracy and precision, not only the age of the universe, but also the density of atoms; the density of all other non-atomic matter; the epoch when the first stars started to shine; the “lumpiness” of the universe, and how that “lumpiness” depends on scale size.

In short, when used alone (with no other measurements), WMAP observations have made our knowledge of those six parameters above about 68,000 times more precise, thereby converting cosmology from a field of often wild speculation to a precision science.

Now, two years after the probe “retired,” Bennett and the WMAP science team are releasing its final results, based on a full nine years of observations.

“It is almost miraculous, says Bennett, Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Johns Hopkins Gilman Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “The universe encoded its autobiography in the microwave patterns we observe across the whole sky. When we decoded it, the universe revealed its history and contents. It is stunning to see everything fall into place.”

WMAP’s “baby picture of the universe” maps the afterglow of the hot, young universe at a time when it was only 375,000 years old, when it was a tiny fraction of its current age of 13.77 billion years. The patterns in this baby picture were used to limit what could have possibly happened earlier, and what happened in the billions of year since that early time. The (mis-named) “big bang” framework of cosmology, which posits that the young universe was hot and dense, and has been expanding and cooling ever since, is now solidly supported, according to WMAP.

WMAP observations also support an add-on to the big bang framework to account for the earliest moments of the universe. Called “inflation,” the theory says that the universe underwent a dramatic early period of expansion, growing by more than a trillion trillion-fold in less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. Tiny fluctuations were generated during this expansion that eventually grew to form galaxies.

Remarkably, WMAP’s precision measurement of the properties of the fluctuations has confirmed specific predictions of the simplest version of inflation:  the fluctuations follow a bell curve with the same properties across the sky, and there are equal numbers of hot and cold spots on the map. WMAP also confirms the  predictions that the amplitude of the variations in the density of the universe on big scales should be slightly larger than smaller scales, and that the universe should obey the rules of Euclidean geometry so the sum of the interior angles of a triangle add to 180 degrees.

Recently, Stephen Hawking commented in New Scientist that WMAP’s evidence for inflation was the most exciting development in physics during his career.

The universe comprises only 4.6 percent atoms. A much greater fraction, 24 percent of the universe, is a different kind of matter that has gravity but does not emit any light — called “dark matter”. The biggest fraction of the current composition of the universe, 71%, is a source of anti-gravity (sometimes called “dark energy”) that is driving an acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

“WMAP observations form the cornerstone of the standard model of cosmology, “says Gary F. Hinshaw of the University of British Columbia, who is part of the WMAP science team. “Other data are consistent and when combined we now know precise values for the history, composition, and geometry of the universe.”

WMAP has also provided the timing of epoch when the first stars began to shine, when the universe was about 400 million old.  The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope is specifically designed to study that period that has added its signature to the WMAP observations.

WMAP launched on June 30, 2001 and maneuvered to its observing station near the “second Lagrange point” of the Earth-Sun system, a million miles from Earth in the direction opposite the sun. From there, WMAP scanned the heavens, mapping out tiny temperature fluctuations across the full sky.  The first results were issued in February 2003, with major updates in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and now this final release. The mission was selected by NASA in 1996, the result of an open competition held in 1995. It was confirmed for development in 1997 and was built and ready for launch only four years later, on-schedule and on-budget.

“The last word from WMAP marks the end of the beginning in our quest to understand the Universe,” comments fellow Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Adam G. Riess, whose discovery of dark energy led him to share the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. “WMAP has brought precision to cosmology and the Universe will never be the same.”

“WMAP has brought precision to cosmology and the Universe will never be the same.”

Related links:

Bennett’s webpage

Hinshaw’s webpage 

Hawking on WMAP

ALL BELOW LINKS from JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY Related>

December 21, 2012 Tags: 

Posted in Academic DisciplinesHomewood Campus NewsInstitutional NewsPhysics and AstronomyUniversity-Related

All Credits to John Hopkins University, NASA and New Scientists Author’s at all above links
This colour image of the region known as NGC 2264 — an area of sky that includes the sparkling blue baubles of the Christmas Tree star cluster and the Cone Nebula

This colour image of the region known as NGC 2264 — an area of sky that includes the sparkling blue baubles of the Christmas Tree star cluster and the Cone Nebula

Planck Science Team Home

2nd announcement of ESLAB 2013 – The Universe as seen by Planck: An international conference dedicated to an in-depth look at the initial scientific results from the Planck mission. ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, 2-5 April 2013. For more information, please visit http://congrexprojects.com/13a11.

Hubble sees back to the cosmic dawn

by Jenny Winder

(Sen) – Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a population of six previously unseen galaxies that formed 13 billion years ago. They also refined the distance of a seventh galaxy, identified as UDFj-39546284, as the most distant galaxy on record, which we are seeing as it was when the universe was only 380 million years old, less than 3% of its current age. That is further back in time than any object seen before.

The survey of a part of the sky called the Ultra Deep Field (UDF) has given scientists the first robust sample of galaxies that show how abundant they were in the era when galaxies first formed, and support the theory that galaxies assembled continuously over time and could have provided enough radiation to reionize the universe just a few hundred million years after the big bang.

Planck spots hot gas bridging galaxy cluster pair

by Sarah Cruddas

(Sen) – The European Space Agency’s Planck telescope has detected a bridge of hot gas connecting a pair of galaxy clusters. It’s the first conclusive detection of hot gas connecting clusters and is measured across a distance of 10 million light years.

Illustration of the Planck spacecraft. Credit: ESA/C. Carreau

Illustration of the Planck spacecraft. Credit: ESA/C. Carreau

The finding is important because it shows the ability of Planck to probe galaxy clusters, examining their connection with the gas that permeates the entire Universe and from which all groups of galaxies formed.

According to ESA “this marks Planck’s first detection of inter-cluster gas using the SZ effect technique”. The SZ effect technique is named after the scientist Sunyaev–Zel’dovich, who discovered it. If the Cosmic Microwave Background light interacts with the hot gas permeating these huge cosmic structures, its energy distribution is modified in a characteristic way, known as the SZ effect.

In the past Planck has used the SZ effect to detect galaxy clusters, but it also provides a way to detect faint filaments of gas that might connect one cluster to another. At the very early stages of the universe, it’s believed that the cosmos was filled with filaments of gaseous matter, with clusters eventually forming in the densest areas.

Up until now much of this tenuous, filamentary gas has remained undetected. However astronomers expect that it could most likely be found between interacting galaxy clusters, where the filaments are compressed and heated up, making them easier to spot. read more at Sen >

Black Hole Outburst in Spiral Galaxy M83 (NASA...

Black Hole Outburst in Spiral Galaxy M83 (NASA, Chandra, Hubble, 04/30/12) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

Black Hole Outburst in Spiral Galaxy M83 (NASA...

Black Hole Outburst in Spiral Galaxy M83 (NASA, Chandra, Hubble, 04/30/12) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

Vega

Standing almost directly overhead around midnight on July nights is the brilliant bluish-white star, Vega, in the constellation of Lyra, the Harp.

It’s the fifth brightest star in the entire sky and the third brightest visible from mid-northern latitudes, behind Sirius and Arcturus. Also, as seen from mid-northern latitudes such as New York or Madrid, Vega goes below the horizon for only about seven hours a day, meaning that you can see it on any night of the year.

Look directly overhead to find the star Vega in the constellation Lyra. North is at the top of this sky map.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software

This sky map of Vega  shows how the star appears in relation to constellations and other stars.

Astronomers take a fresh look at Vega

Monday, 17 December 2012 by Stuart Gary at ABC

The star Vega is at least two hundred million years older than previously thought, according to a new study.

For thousands of years, scientists have been using Vega as an astronomical yardstick with which to compare other stars and galaxies, as well as develop computer models of stellar life cycles.

vega star

New studies have provided the most accurate estimate yet of the age of Vega, one of the nearest stars to our solar system (Source: NASA/JPL)

But now, new research led by associate professor John Monnier of the University of Michigan, has found Vega is spinning slower than originally estimated, meaning the star is also older.

Reporting in the Astrophysical Journal, Monnier and colleagues determined the star rotates once every 17 hours, rather than once every 12, as previously thought.

By comparison, the Sun’s equator rotates far more slowly, about once every 648 hours or 27 days.

Based on the new analysis of its rotational speed, the researchers determined Vega to be between 700 and 800 million years old, compared to the Sun’s age of 4.567 billion years.

They also found Vega to have about 2.15 times the mass of the Sun.

Using an instrument developed by Monnier called the Michigan Infra-red Combiner, the researchers were able to collect light from six telescopes, increasing the resolution to a hundred times that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

“This allowed us to accurately measure the temperature of Vega, which is seen almost end on from Earth,” says Monnier.

“Because it’s spinning so fast, Vega has an equatorial bulge due to centrifugal force.”

“The greater the bulge, the further away from the star’s centre it’s equator is and that affects its temperature.”

“By measuring the temperature, we could work out how fast Vega is spinning which could then be used to determine its age,” says Monnie