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Ground-based telescopes continue to produce some of world's important space discoveries
They may not have the sexiness of their space-born brethren but the world's ground based telescopes routinely pump out some of the world’s most important space observations and discoveries. Recently there has been a ton of new discoveries and great images from ground-based telescopes across the world. We have gathered together some of the coolest shots here.
The image here of star WR 22 comes from ESO's Wide Field Imager at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Researchers say WR 22 is a very hot and bright star that is shedding its atmosphere into space at a rate many millions of times faster than the sun. While the star is more than 5,000 light-years from Earth, it is so bright that it can just be faintly seen with the unaided eye under good conditions.
Astronomers at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona noted recently that a sunspot had grown so large it could be seen without using a solar telescope. Known as Sunspot 1089, spaceweather.com reported that scientist "spotted it" as the sun set over Kitt Peak (you can sort of spot it in the lower left side of this posted photo). Huge sunspots do appear from time to time. In 2004 NASA noted a sunspot 20 times the size of Earth. NASA also noted a large number of solar events occurred in the fall of 2003 when about 17 major flares erupted on the sun.
Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne recently said they discovered the first known case of a distant galaxy being magnified by a quasar acting as a gravitational lens. The discovery was based in part on observations done at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii's Mauna Kea. A single quasar could be a thousand times brighter than an entire galaxy of a hundred billion stars, which makes studies of their host galaxies exceedingly difficult. The significance of the discovery, the researchers say, is that it provides a novel way to understand these host galaxies.
Using the 10-meter Keck Telescope, located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, astrophysicists at UC Santa Barbara identified two white dwarf stars, allowing for the first direct radius measurement of a rare white dwarf composed of pure helium. Scientists were able to measure the changing Doppler shift of the star NLTT 11748 as it orbited its faint, but more massive, white dwarf companion. NLTT 11748 is one of the few very low-mass, helium-core white dwarfs that are under careful study for their brightness variations. Rapid snapshots of the star -- about one exposure every minute -- found a few consecutive images where the star was slightly fainter.
This image by one of the European Southern Observatory's ground telescopes shows off many thousands of distant galaxies, and more particularly a large group belonging to the massive galaxy cluster known as Abell 315. As crowded as it may appear, this assembly of galaxies is only the proverbial "tip of the iceberg", as Abell 315 -- like most galaxy clusters -- is dominated by dark matter, researchers said. Galaxy clusters are some of the largest structures in the universe held together by gravity. Galaxies in these giants contribute to only 10% of the mass, with hot gas in between galaxies accounting for another 10%. The remaining 80% is made of an invisible and unknown ingredient called dark matter that lies in between the galaxies.
ESO telescopes took this picture, which shows swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter's Great Red Spot, enabling scientists to make the first detailed interior weather map of the giant storm system linking its temperature, winds, pressure and composition with its color. The thermal images were mostly obtained with the VISIR instrument attached to ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, with additional data coming from the Gemini South telescope in Chile and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.
Researchers at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution say a newly discovered star outside the Milky Way has shown important clues about the evolution of our galaxy. Located in the dwarf galaxy Sculptor some 280,000 light-years away, the star has a chemical make-up similar to the Milky Way's oldest stars, supporting theories that our galaxy grew by absorbing dwarf galaxies and other galactic building blocks. Pectroscopic measurements of the star's light at Carnegie's Magellan-Clay telescope in Las Campanas, Chile, determined it to have a metal abundance more than 4,000 times lower than that of the sun -- five times lower than any other star found so far in a dwarf galaxy.
Researchers recently used the Subaru Telescope to see what they called a rare dark gamma-ray burst. Astronomers from Kyoto University, Tokyo Institute of Technology and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan say Gamma-ray bursts are one of the most profound mysteries in current astronomy. Among the most energetic explosions in the universe, these bursts are bright flashes of enormous gamma rays that appear suddenly in the sky and usually last only several to a few tens of seconds.
The National Science Foundation's giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope now can help astronomers map large cosmic structures. The new tool promises to provide valuable clues about the nature of the mysterious "dark energy" believed to constitute nearly three-fourths of the mass and energy of the universe. Researchers from the Academia Sinica in Taiwan and the University of Toronto developed a technique known as intensity mapping to show how large-scale space structures have changed over the last few billion years, giving insight into which theory of dark energy is the most accurate.
The University of Chicago recently joined the effort to build the world's largest telescope in Chile, which promises to eclipse the image quality even of the Hubble Space Telescope. The university will provide $50 million to become a founding partner in the project called the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be able see objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope can detect. Other founding GMT partners are the Carnegie Institution for Science, University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University, Australian National University, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, Astronomy Australia Ltd., and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute. Construction of the GMT will begin at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, in 2012 and will take approximately seven years to complete. The $700 million GMT will combine seven 8.4-meter primary mirror segments into the equivalent of a 24.5-meter telescope (nearly 82 feet).
Astronomers ESO telescopes grabbed what they called the first image of a dusty disc closely encircling a massive baby star, providing direct evidence that massive stars form in the same way as smaller ones. The team of astronomers looked at an object known by the cryptic name of IRAS 13481-6124. About 20 times the mass of our sun and five times its radius, the young central star, which is still surrounded by its pre-natal cocoon, is located in the constellation of Centaurus, about 10,000 light-years away.
The Leo gas ring, a giant ring of cold gas 650,000 light-years wide surrounding the galaxies of the Leo group, is one of the most dramatic and mysterious clouds of intergalactic gas, researchers say. Recently astronomers using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope unveiled the origin of the giant Leo gas ring: a violent collision between two galaxies, slightly more than 1 billion years ago.
The star known as R Coronae Australis was imaged recently by the ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. R Coronae Australis lies at the heart of a nearby star-forming region and is surrounded by a delicate bluish reflection nebula embedded in a huge dust cloud. According to researchers, the star sits in one of the nearest and most spectacular star-forming regions. This image shows a section of sky that spans roughly the width of the full moon.
Using the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (EVN) and the UK's Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN), a group of researchers, led by Professor Michael Garrett, general director of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, ASTRON, made high-resolution radio observations of the region of space around Hanny's Voorwerp ("Hanny's Object"). The radio observations show that in this small region, IC 2497 is producing stars with a total mass of 70 suns every year.
Scientists from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia-CSIC in Spain used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) on La Palma, in the Canary Islands, to study activity from the quasar SDSS J0123+00. Here they found evidence of a collision between galaxies driving intense activity in a highly luminous quasar. Several types of galaxies, known as active galaxies, emit enormous amounts of energy from their central region or nucleus, with the most luminous objects known as quasars. In the case of SDSS J0123+00, one of the most important results is the discovery of an extended, faint nebula of ionized gas around the entire galaxy. The nebula is about six times larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy and is probably made of the debris of the interaction between SDSS J0123+00 and its neighbor, researchers stated.
Astronomers recently said they had taken a picture of a very young brown dwarf (or failed star) in a tight orbit around a young nearby sun-like star. An international team led by University of Hawaii astronomers with help from University of Arizona made the rare find using the Near-Infrared Coronagraphic Imager on the international 8 meter Gemini-South Telescope in Chile. The positioning makes this combination an important laboratory for studying the early stages of solar system formation, researchers stated.
OK, we needed to include this shot in this collection because of its "cool factor." It was taken from the ground -- on Mars. NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity took a picture of a dust devil swirling on the surface of the red planet.