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Astronomy Photographs Of The Year Show Off The Universe’s Beauty

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es9_james_woodend_aurora_over_a_glacier_lagoon_651Each year the Royal Observatory pores over thousands of entries to honor the very best in astronomical photography. This year the Observatory teamed with BBC Sky at Night Magazine and Flickr to evaluate some 1,700 submissions, representing photographers from over 50 different countries. The submissions are divided into four categories: “Earth and Space,” “Our Solar System,” “Deep Space,” and “Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year.” They also award two special prizes: “People and Space,” which is sort of self-explanatory; “Robotic Scope” for shots taken using one of those gizmos; and the “Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer,” named for the noteworthy English astronomer. The winning pictures will be on display in the Royal Observatory.

You can check out the winners and runners up for each category below.

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Today In 1633 Galileo Was Deemed A Heretic

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galileo and jupiterCopernicus wasn’t the first person to theorize that the Earth revolved around the sun, but he was the first person to publish support for the theory that anyone paid attention to. In 1543, he published De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI (“Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs”), which asserted the idea Philolaus and Hicetas, Greek philosophers stargazing in about 500 BC, first posited: that the Earth is round, and that it revolved around a “central fire” that holds the universe together. Even though the heliocentric model of the universe was first conceived long, long ago, it wasn’t until Galileo came along in the 1600s and proved it that people’s views began to shift. Of course, Galileo paid a price for his work: 381 years ago today, the Vatican declared him a heretic.

The heliocentric model had a few sticking points: that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, of course, but also that the positions of the stars seemed never to change, regardless of Earth’s supposed orbit around the sun. It was in response to that second item that Claudius Ptolemy theorized that if Earth were fixed, and everything else revolved around it, then that would explain why the stars never moved. This made sense to folks, so the geocentric theory reigned for almost 1,500 years.

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Dying Stars Slosh Around When They Go Supernova

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cassiopeia-AAs Carl Sagan always said, “We’re made of star-stuff.” That’s because dying stars explode, expelling stardust — which scientists now know contains water in addition to carbon and other organic, life-promoting compounds — throughout the galaxy. In fact, some scientists believe that the universe may have been created when a massive, four-dimensional star went supernova, shedding its outer layers while its inner layers collapsed into a black hole. But supernovae remain somewhat elusive, especially when it comes to the details of the explosion. Until, that is, they are seen with a special telescope. A study published today in Nature by an international team of scientists provides new information about what happens inside a dying star.

Computer simulations have shown that stars won’t explode if they retain their perfectly round shape, so astronomers knew that something else had to be happening. They had some ideas about what that might be, but until now they haven’t been able to determine which, if any, were accurate. NASA’s NuSTAR (nuclear spectroscopic telescope array) telescope, housed at Caltec, enabled scientists to map radioactive material in the remnants of supernova Cassiopeia A. The telescope provided the first ever glimpse at the high-energy X-rays generated by a dying star.

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Ring Of Dust Around A Star May Be Forming New Planets

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StarHeaderStar HD 142527 probably struggles to find maternity clothes in its size.

A team of scientists from Japan’s Osaka University has been observing the star from Chile’s ALMA observatory, where they’ve noticed some pretty unusual cosmic behavior. Star HD 142527 is over 450 light years away and is surrounded by a ring of dust and gas. That ring isn’t uniform — in fact, the northern part of it is brighter and denser than the rest. That portion of the ring is over 20 billion kilometers away from the star itself, which surprised the team. The astronomers have never before observed such a dense collection of material in a ring so far away from the central star. In this case, that dense knot is about five times as far from the star as Neptune is from the sun.

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Harvard Professor Turns The Sound Of A Supernova Into Song

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SupernovaWhile we might think of space as a vast and silent expanse, that’s not necessarily true. Space has plenty of noise, like these dense plasma sounds captured by Voyager 1 as it headed into interstellar space. Space also has musical stylings of Chris Hadfield. Now, Harvard astronomy professor Alicia Soderberg has found a way to turn a supernova into songs. Eat your heart out, Oasis.

Soderberg specializes in a star’s last gasps, which are violent, dramatic explosions. It’s tough to capture one in real time, though, so she often conducts what’s called a stellar autopsy, examining the remnants of the event. She gathers up all the information she can find, including x-rays, light, and radio waves. Then she and her team set about analyzing and synthesizing the data, which is about as easy as trying to put all the pieces together of an explosion here on Earth.

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The Most Amazing Science Stories Of 2013

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genome_editing

Writing a round-up of best science stories of the year is a tall order—it’s kind of like writing a piece about the best and brightest stars in the sky. There are countless stories to choose from, and so many that are inarguably awesome. That in itself says something—if my biggest dilemma as a science writer is sifting through the innovations to find the biggest nuggets of gold, then that’s a pretty great problem.

I’m going to cheat a little. I’m allowed, right? I’ve narrowed it down to categories, with a few stories in each.