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Gamma-ray bursts shine so brightly that astronomers can spot them across the universe, as shown in this artist's conception. Astrophysicists Volker Bromm (UT Austin) and Avi Loeb (CfA) predict that approximately one-tenth of all bursts captured by Swift will come from stars that died during the first 1 billion years of the universe. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
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Shown in this artist's conception, the universe's first stars were behemoths that guzzled fuel faster than an SUV, dying quickly and explosively. NASA's Swift satellite may detect the resulting gamma-ray bursts, opening a new window onto the early history of the cosmos. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
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Theoretical appearance of a hot spot in orbit around the black hole in the center ofthe Milky-Way galaxy.
Credit: Harvard CfA
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NASA Spitzer Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy M81, located some 12 million light years from Earth. The infrared radiation emitted by polycyclic nitrogen-containing aromatic hydrocarbon (PANH) molecules is shown in red. This emission is excited by star (and planet) formation along the edges of the spiral arms.
Credit: NASA
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A polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon with nitrogen. The blue balls are the carbon atoms that make the chicken-wire shaped PAH skeleton and the yellow balls show the hydrogen atoms which are attached to the edge. The red shows the position of a nitrogen atom which fits almost perfectly within the molecule.
Credit: NASA
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This artist's concept shows microscopic crystals in the dusty disk surrounding a brown dwarf, or "failed star." The crystals, made up of a green mineral found on Earth called olivine, are thought to help seed the formation of planets.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope detected the tiny crystals circling around five brown dwarfs, the cooler and smaller cousins of stars. Though crystallized minerals have been seen in space before -- in comets and around other stars -- the discovery represents the first time the little gem-like particles have been spotted around confirmed brown dwarfs.
Astronomers believe planets form out of disks of dust that circle young brown dwarfs and stars. Over time, the various minerals making up the disks crystallize and begin to clump together. Eventually, the clumps collide and stick, building up mass like snowmen until planets are born.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Alice and the curtain.
Credit: John Tenniel
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Lawrence Krauss
Credit: Case Western Reserve University
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Plato's Cave
Credit: University of Washington
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Einstein Ring Gravitational Lens: SDSS J162746.44-005357.5
Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Bolton (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) and the SLACS Team
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Einstein Ring Gravitational Lens: SDSS J120540.43+491029.3
Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Bolton (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) and the SLACS Team
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A Gallery of Einstein Rings
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the SLACS Survey team: A. Bolton (Harvard/Smithsonian), S. Burles (MIT), L. Koopmans (Kapteyn), T. Treu (UCSB), and L. Moustakas (JPL/Caltech)
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AMBER at the VLTI. The complex instrument includes a large number of optical and mechanical components for simultaneous interferometric and spectroscopic analysis of cosmic objects. Credit: AMBER Consortium
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An artist´ depiction of the immediate environment of a young star, MWC297 (cross-section). The measurements obtained with ESO´ Very Large Telescope Interferometer and AMBER show that the star is surrounded by a disk of gas and dust, and that a stellar wind blows into space above and below the disk. This region, analysed for the first time ever, has dimensions comparable to the orbit of Mars around the sun. Within that region, new planets may be created from the material of the disk. Credit: AMBER Consortium
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Caption: ESO PR Photo 37/05 shows the radial velocities of the red dwarf Gl 581 as a function of the orbital phase. The amplitude of the detected variation is 13.2 m/s and the curve is consistent with a circular orbit. The orbital period is 5.366 days.
Credit: ESO
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Itsy Bitsy Solar System:
This artist's conception compares a hypothetical solar system centered around a tiny "sun" (top) to a known solar system centered around a star, called 55 Cancri, which is about the same size as our Sun. Astronomers using a combination of ground-based and orbiting telescopes, including NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, discovered the beginnings of such a miniature solar system 500 light-years away in the Chamaeleon constellation.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Scientists can characterize a disk by looking at its infrared spectrum.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
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An artist's conception of the dusty disk orbiting IRS 46. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
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Spectral data reveals the presence of organic compounds in the stellar disk orbiting the protostar IRS 46. Astronomers were able to make the first discovery of acetylene, hrodogen cyanide and carbon dioxide in a stellar disk by breaking the starlight into its component wavelengths, or colors.

Acetylene, hydrogen cyanide and carbon dioxide have been found to form organic compounds including amino acids and a DNA purine base under certain conditions. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC).
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Binary star system planet formation. Credit: Carnegie Institute
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Binary Star System Credit: Spaceref
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Planet formation in a single system. Credit: Carnegie Institute
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These two bright debris disks of ice and dust appear to be the equivalent of our own solar system's Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy rocks outside the orbit of Neptune and the source of short-period comets. The disks encircle the types of stars around which there could be habitable zones and planets for life to develop. The disks seem to have a central area cleared of debris, perhaps by planets.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley)
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Light Curve of OGLE-2005-BLG-390. Credit: ESO
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Artist's Impression of the Newly Found Exoplanet. Credit: ESO
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A Smithsonian team of astronomers has found two "exiled" stars that were flung from the galactic center millions of years ago. Those stars are speeding out of the Milky Way at more than one million miles per hour, as shown in this artist's conception. Five exiled stars now are known, making them a new class of objects known as hypervelocity stars. Credit: Ruth Bazinet, CfA
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This photograph from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey shows one of two newly discovered hypervelocity stars (marked with an arrow). SDSS J091301.0+305120 is traveling out of the galaxy at a speed of about 1.25 million miles per hour and currently is located at a distance of about 240,000 light-years from the earth. This image is about 7 arcminutes on a side, showing an area of the sky about 1/15 the size of the Full Moon. Credit: SDSS Collaboration
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This photograph from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey shows the second of two newly discovered hypervelocity stars (marked with an arrow). SDSS J091759.5+672238 is moving outward at 1.43 million miles per hour and currently is located about 180,000 light-years from the earth. This image is about 7 arcminutes on a side, showing an area of the sky about 1/15 the size of the Full Moon. Credit: SDSS Collaboration
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TOP VIEW: A huge star-forming region is rotating globally in the direction shown by the white arrow. This large region can give birth to multiple stellar systems.
MIDDLE VIEW: A detailed view inside the large star-forming region shows three protostars forming as the region collapses. The collapse process is chaotic and can cause eddies, allowing newly-forming stars to rotate in different directions and at different speeds, as shown by the arrows.
BOTTOM VIEW: One protostellar cloud collapses further into a disk-like structure that rotates counter-clockwise (white arrows) about the newly-formed protostar. In addition, the protostar siphons off material from a second, passing protostellar cloud rotating in the opposite direction. Because of this, the outer part of the disk rotates clockwise (yellow arrows). Eventually, planets will form from the material in this disk, with the outer planets orbiting the star in the opposite direction from the inner planets.

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A NASA-led team of astronomers have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect a strong flow of heat radiation from a toasty planet orbiting a nearby star. The findings allowed the team to "take the temperature" of the planet. Credit: Spaceref
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This false-color image from three of NASA's Great Observatories provides one example of a star that died in a fiery supernova blast. Called Cassiopeia A, this supernova remnant is located 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. At the center of this orb, visible only as a tiny turquoise dot, is the leftover corpse of the now-dead star, called a neutron star. The multi-hued shell outside the neutron star is the rest of the original star's scattered remains.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Steward Observatory
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This artist's concept depicts the pulsar planet system discovered by Aleksander Wolszczan in 1992. Wolszczan used the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to find three planets - the first of any kind ever found outside our solar system - circling a pulsar called PSR B1257+12. Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars, which are the collapsed cores of exploded massive stars. They spin and pulse with radiation, much like a lighthouse beacon. Here, the pulsar's twisted magnetic fields are highlighted by the blue glow.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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This artist's animation depicts the explosive death of a massive star, followed by the creation of a disk made up of the star's ashes. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope was able to see the warm glow of such a dusty disk using its heat-seeking infrared vision. Astronomers believe planets might form in this dead star's disk, like the mythical Phoenix rising up out of the ashes.
Animation credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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The afterglow of GRB 030329 (white dot in center of image), as detected on April 15, 2003, by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope. Ohio State University astronomers and their colleagues recently used data from this event and three others to determine that a gamma ray burst is unlikely ever to occur in the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: The European Space Agency / NASA / Andrew Fruchter (STScI), Andrew Levan (Leicester Univ.), GOSH Collaboration.
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An artists image of a scientifically accurate model of Beta Pictoris and its disk. Note that the actual observing data to not fully extend to the central star due to the use of a coronagraphic mask. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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The dust disk surrounding the star Beta Pictoris seen in infrared light 2 micrometers in wavelength. The disk appears long and thin because we are looking at it edge-on. While observing, a coronagraph blocked light from the star. The black circle in this image masks out areas that may have been affected by light from the star. The size of the circle corresponds to the size of the Solar System (100 astronomical units). Some scattered light from the telescope's secondary mirror remains in the image right above the black circle. North is up, East is left. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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Polarization vectors superimposed among the image of the Beta Pictoris disk showing the direction of the light's polarization. Most of the vectors are perpendicular to the direction towards the central star,indicating that the light
originated from the star and then reflected off particles in the disk. The light is polarized by about 10%. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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Light is an electromagnetic wave. It can oscillate in any direction that is perpendicular to the direction of energy transport. Polarized light has a preferred orientation of oscillation. Light emitted by a hot object such as a light bulb filament or the Sun is usually oscillating in random directions and is unpolarized. When unpolarized light reflects off something else it can become polarized. Polarized sunglasses work by blocking light that has the same polarization as sunlight reflecting off water and other common reflective surfaces.
If starlight reflects off dust that evenly surrounds it, the polarization vectors would look like the left image. If it reflects off a thin disk the polarization would look like the right image. The polarization pattern of the Beta Pic disk resembles the right image.
Credit: Subaru Telescope
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A typical Pegasid system, with both the star and planet drawn to scale. Here, the planet orbits the star in just 3.5 days. For comparison, the Earth orbits the Sun every single year, and Mercury, which has the shortest orbital period in the solar system, orbits the Sun every 88 days. Credit: Astronomy & Astrophysics
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Correlation between the amount of heavy elements in the transiting planets and the metallicity of their parent stars. Credit: Astronomy & Astrophysics
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In the Beta Pictoris Disk -banner- Credit:NASA/FUSE/Lynette Cook
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The Earth is a silicate planet---made mostly from silicon and oxygen, with a core of metals. A carbon planet might be mostly made of carbon compounds like silicon carbide and diamond, as this cutaway diagram suggests. Credit: Sky & Telescope
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This image of the circumstellar disk around the southern star Beta Pictoris was obtained with the 3.6-m telescope and the Grenoble Observatory coronograph. It shows (in false colors) the light reflected by dust around the young star at infrared wavelengths. The disk is very close to edge-on. This is a coronagraphic image, meaning that light from the bright central star was blocked out during observation making it easier to see the relatively faint dust. The Beta Pic disk is very likely an infant solar system in the process of forming terrestrial planets. [June 1997] Credit: Jean-Luc Beuzit, et al. Grenoble Observatory, European Southern Observatory
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In the Beta Pictoris Disk
Artist´ conception of the view towards the young star Beta Pictoris from the outer edge of its disk. This disk of dust and gas orbiting the star is produced by collisions between and evaporation of asteroids and comets. A giant planet may have already formed and terrestrial planets may be forming. A young terrestrial planet gaining mass by collision with an asteroid is shown in the middle of the panel. The young terrestrial planet is dry, without an atmosphere. It will likely acquire one later from the impact of water (or other kind of ice)-rich asteroids.

Astronomers using NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer telescope have found that the gas in the Beta Pictoris disk is extremely carbon-rich, much more so than expected based on what is known about asteroids and comets in the Solar System. The inset panels show two possible outcomes for mature terrestrial planets around Beta Pic. The top one is a water-rich planet similar to the Earth; the bottom one is a carbon-rich planet, with a smoggy, methane-rich atmosphere similar to that of Titan, a moon of Saturn. Credit:NASA/FUSE/Lynette Cook
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Image credit: Art by
Image caption: Astronomers have found disks of dust and gas, the raw material for planet making, around objects that are only a few times heftier than Jupiter. These findings suggest that miniature versions of the solar system may circle "planemos" that are some 100 times less massive than our Sun.
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Four Jupiter-mass clumps formed on Saturn-like orbits after 215 years of evolution of an initially smooth disk of gas and dust in orbit around a red dwarf star with a mass half that of our Sun. Purple denotes regions with high gas density in the midplane of the planet-forming disk, while red regions denote low gas density. The red dwarf lies unseen at the center of the disk. These protoplanets would all be stripped down to super-Earths if this planetary system formed close to a massive star. Credit: Carnegie Institution

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Image of HD142527's protoplanetary disk in 24.5 microns from COMICS. The right had panel overlays contours of CIAO's near-infrared results on top of the COMICS image. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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A diagram of the structure of the HD142527's protoplanetary disk. There is an inner disk and an outer disk and a gap between them. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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Image of HD142527's protoplanetary disk in 1.65 microns from CIAO. A mask hides the central. The panel on the right highlights the distinct features: two banana-shaped arms, and extended arc. North is up; East is left. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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A graph of the brightness of the disk in 24.5 microns and a function of distance from the central star in astronomical units. The dips in brightness on either side of the central star indicate a gap in the disk. Credit: Subaru Telescope
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