A loose group of stars that has been known for more than 180 years but never before studied in detail has been revealed to be an important new tool in the quest to understand the evolution of stars like the Sun, and in the search for planets like Earth. "We have discovered that a previously unappreciated open star cluster, which is a little younger than our Sun, holds great promise for use as a standard gauge in fundamental stellar astrophysics," said Jason T. Wright, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, who conceived and initiated the research.
Wright's research team's first paper on the cluster, known as Ruprecht 147, has been submitted to the Astronomical Journal for publication. Team member Jason Curtis, a graduate student in Wright's lab, led the work for this paper and will present the team's project in Barcelona, Spain, next week at the 17th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun.
Penn State astronomers using the world's largest radio telescope, at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, have discovered flaring radio emissions from an ultra-cool star, shattering the previous record for the lowest stellar temperature at which radio waves were detected and possibly boosting the odds of discovering life elsewhere in the universe.
New evidence that will help to answer long-standing questions about the history of stars in the disk of our galaxy is being released this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society by a team that includes a Penn State astronomer. The research reveals some stars with orbits that take them to interesting places and that reveal interesting stories about how these stars were formed.
Donald Schneider, Head of Penn State's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, is one of the coauthors of the study. The study uses data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which has been mapping the stars in our galaxy for more than a decade. "The SDSS results are providing another window into the structure and history of our galaxy," said Schneider, who is the SDSS Survey Coordinator. More information is online at www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Schneider1-2012.
The nature of a peculiar cosmic explosion detected on Dec. 25, 2010, remains an intriguing question without a clear answer. The cause of the explosion, a gamma-ray burst that first was detected by NASA's Swift observatory, either was a novel type of supernova located billions of light-years from Earth or an unusual collision much closer to home inside our own galaxy, report astronomers in papers published in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature. "It is nice to find that the universe can still surprise us, after seven years and 600 bursts since Swift was launched," said Michael Siegel, a research associate in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and the lead scientist for Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT). Siegel analyzed the UVOT data as it came down to Penn State's Mission Operations Center from the spacecraft, and he also coordinated Swift's follow-up observations.
A wave of massive star formation appears poised to begin within a mysterious, dark cloud in the Milky Way. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed a secluded birthplace for stars within a wispy, dark cloud named M17 SWex. The dark cloud is part of the larger, parent nebula known as M17, a vast region of our galaxy with a bright, central star cluster. "We believe we've managed to observe this dark cloud in a very early phase of star formation before its most massive stars have ignited," said Penn State astronomer Matthew Povich, a postdoctoral fellow and the lead author of a study published recently in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The new research could shed light on the question of how and when massive stars form.
The Milky Way Galaxy has lost weight. A lot of weight. About a trillion Suns' worth, according to an international team of scientists from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-II), whose discovery has broad implications for our understanding of the Milky Way.