Monday, September 24, 2007

Black hole finding and who killed the Dinosaurs

NASA has approved the restart of NuSTAR, a SMEX level mission, which is a focusing hard X-ray telescope with the primary objectives of "conducting a census for black holes on all scales, mapping radioactive material in young supernova remnants, and exposing relativistic jets of particles from the most extreme active galaxies". This is great news! The hard X-ray sky has not been mapped in any systematic way, and NuSTAR promises to live up to its former unofficial name of Black Hole Finder by discovering the obscured black holes that can not be seen at any other wavelength.

The other primary source of astronomy funding is the National Science Foundation (the NSF), which had been reviewing its priorities under a process called Senior Review that culminated in a report published November 2006. The astronomy division of the NSF has just produced a progress update of how it has been seeking to implement the proposals of the Senior Review. Its worth reading, not least to gain an idea of the problems facing Arecibo's future.

While we're close to home, Bottke et al (2007, Nature, 449, 48) present work suggesting that the KT impactor (i.e. the asteroid impact believed to have lead to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs and many other species about 65 million years ago) may have itself originated in the break up of a larger asteroid about 170 million years ago. Those remaining remnants of this mega asteroid (the bits that didn't later hit the Earth or the Moon) make up the Baptistina asteroid family. If you don't have access to Nature then try reading the press release instead.

[Stylish black and white image from the South West Research Institute web site]

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