• 2010 nasa special
    a total eclipse of the Sun is visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses Earth's southern Hemisphere. The path of the Moon's umbral shadow crosses the South Pacific Ocean where it makes no landfall except for Mangaia (Cook Islands) and Easter Island (Isla de Pascua).

Magnetic fields play important role in birth of massive stars

This artist's illustration provided by NASA shows what the brightest supernova ever recorded, known as SN 2006gy, may have looked like when it exploded.
AP This artist's illustration provided by NASA shows what the brightest supernova ever recorded, known as SN 2006gy, may have looked like when it exploded.

In a new research, astronomers have used the MERLIN radio telescope network cantered on the Jodrell Bank Observatory to show that magnetic fields play an important role during the birth of massive stars. Magnetic fields are already known to strongly influence the formation of lower-mass stars like our Sun.

This new study reveals that the way in which high-mass and low-mass stars form may be more similar than previously suspected. Massive stars, more than 8 times the mass of the Sun, are crucial to the formation of other stars, planets and even life. Though rare, they dominate the content and evolution of the interstellar material in the Galaxy and are responsible for the production of heavy elements such as iron. However, the question of how massive stars are formed has proved extremely difficult to answer. The role of magnetic fields in particular has been a topic of great debate. “While magnetic fields have been observed in the clouds of molecular hydrogen from which stars form, observations close to massive stars have up to now been in short supply,” said Dr. Wouter Vlemmings at Bonn University, who led the research. “If the formation of massive stars is similar to their lighter counterparts, we should be able to detect the strong magnetic fields needed to both produce the jets and stabilize the disks associated with them,” he added.

For the first time, Vlemmings and his collaborators have managed to observe the 3-dimensional magnetic field structure around the disk of the massive newly forming star (or protostar) Cepheus A HW2. In their new observations, the astronomers have found that the magnetic field is surprisingly regular and strong, implying that it is controlling how the matter is transferred through the disk to feed the growing embryonic star.

To determine the magnetic field structure, the researchers used the MERLIN telescope array to observe radio waves (with a wavelength of approximately 5 cm) that are amplified by methanol molecules. These methanol molecules, the simplest of the alcohol compounds, are found in regions surrounding the massive disk around HW2, which extend over a region 10 times the size of our Solar System. Such regions are called masers, because they amplify microwave radiation in the same way a laser amplifies light radiation. Even though a strong magnetic field produces only a very weak signature in the signal from the methanol molecules, this amplification is strong enough to make the new work possible.

An Astronaut Peeks Out from the Space Station's Lovely New 360-Degree Window

Cupola View: Why is this man smiling? Oh right NASA
Space shuttle Endeavour has landed safely after installing a new observation deck on the International Space Station. But the Endeavour astronauts didn't leave without first checking out the new view from the cupola window.

Here we get a view of George Zamka, NASA astronaut and STS-130 commander, peeking out from the newly-installed cupola on February 19 while the space shuttle remained docked with the space station. ISS resident Soichi Noguchi has already made good use of the cupola to take pretty Earth Twitpics with his 800mm lens camera.

Speaking of Noguchi, the astronaut also took advantage of his fresh vantage point to capture this stunning image of the space shuttle making an s-turn while undergoing atmospheric reentry on its return home.

Space Shuttle S-Turn: Sky shuttle in flight Soichi Noguchi/NASA

Besides providing stunning sights, the cupola gives ISS residents a better view to control the space station's robotic arm. That feature should come in handy, considering that NASA's new budget has extended the space station lifetime until at least 2020.

Nasa launches new free iPhone Lunar Rover app

Nasa has produced a new free iPhone app that allows users to be part of their own space mission to the moon, officials said.

The interactive game, called Nasa Lunar Electric Rover Simulator, is an interactive game for the Apple iPhone where users are given an insight into what it could be like to support lunar mission.

While driving a Lunar Electric Rover during their Lunar Outpost, users can perform various tasks to support the mission including transporting supplies to and from various points, blogs say.

Based on an astronauts’ experience, users also have to closely monitor their power consumption while navigating around the moon's hazards.

The game, released on Monday by space officials and based on the agency’s video pod cast show, Nasa Edge, also comes with an interactive gallery.

The free application, developed by the Analytical Mechanics Association at the Nasa Langley Research Centre, in Hampton, Virginia, is available through the iTunes store.

“We wanted to make this a cool game instead of an app where you just retrieve information,” Chris Giersch, the host of Edge, told Wired magazine.

“We thought about going hi-tech and going really jazzy, but for this first version, let’s just keep it basic.”

Mr Giersch said the Rover was based on the prototype tested at the Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona.

It would have been part of a planned lunar outpost under the former Nasa Constellation solar system exploration plan, he said.

The apps’ blurb adds: “You don't need a driver's license, but you still need to buckle up as the LER Simulator gives you a glimpse of what it might be like to support the activities of a functioning Lunar Outpost.

“Get busy. You never know if your skills here will become a major part of the Nasa Astronaut application process in the future.”

It is the latest technological initiative released by Nasa, which is one the leading government agencies to try and engage in new media.

It regularly uses Twitter and other iPhone apps including payed-for iRover, which allows users to explore the moon's surface.