I'm back home from last week's working trip to Tucson, and I am working on a new original blog post that I hope to get posted later today. In the meantime, here are a few astronomical odds and ends:
- Run away! Run away! A relatively new field of astronomy involves finding objects that are flying away from their site of origin at high speeds, often due to a supernova explosion or a close encounter with another object. A few days ago, a team using the Hubble Space Telescope and data from two different ground-based telescopes (the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the European Very Large Telescope) announced that they had found a star 90 times that mass of the sun speeding away from R136, a giant star cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way's companion galaxies. What I like about this story is not just the interesting object, but also that the finding illustrates how a lot of astronomy discoveries are made. The researchers brought together data taken from four different cameras on three different telescopes, and much of those data were taken for unrelated projects. So, thanks to a little luck and a lot of data sharing, the most massive runaway star yet known has been discovered.
The other runaway object in the news is what could be a black hole that has been shot out of a nearby galaxy during the merger of two black holes. Or it could be a somewhat rare type of supernova. Or it could be a normal-sized black hole that is rapidly eating material from a very bright companion star. Or it could be the chance alignment of a supermassive black hole in the very distant universe (which is cool but not rare) with a nearby galaxy. What I don't like about this article is that a little extra data could have narrowed the possibilities quite a bit. Maybe the astronomers were not able to get more data, or maybe they were worried that someone else was working on the same object, or maybe the graduate student who was writing the paper had some academic deadline to meet. I fully understand each of these concerns, but the result is a lot of conjecture.
- Carnival of Space #153 It's a new week, which means a new edition (number 153, to be exact) of the Carnival of Space, a collection of links to some of the most interesting astronomy and space-related blog posts of the past week from across the Internet. This week, it is being hosted at Cumbrian Sky. Be sure to have your red-blue 3D glasses handy.
- Staff appreciation, astronomy style The University of Texas at Austin celebrated Staff Appreciation Week last week. They led of the week by honoring Lara Eakins, one of the indispensable staff members in the Department of Astronomy. Lara helps out with undergraduate education, troubleshoots media problems in classrooms, and leads campus star parties and tours of our facilities for many visiting groups. Nary a week goes by without several Lara-led groups of excited, twittering elementary school children walking past my office door on their way to see our rooftop telescopes. Way to go, Lara, on a much-deserved honor!