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Ghost lights: Believe if you dare

Marfa lights – or not – from papiblogger.com.

Ghost lights used to be called will-o-the-wisps. They were a weird glow over swamps or bogs. Nowadays, people report strange lights in the sky in all sorts of places. Some are more famous than others. The ghost lights closest to me are in the desert-like Davis Mountains near Marfa, Texas, but you can also see them in the Brown Mountains of North Carolina, and other places in North America. There are modern, very ordinary explanations for these lights. Yet people still love to try to spot them. Follow the links inside to some samples of North American ghost lights.

Night spider

Photo: Guy Livesay

Photo: Guy Livesay

“She waits patiently through the night on her invisible web, stars dimly glowing in the background…” A spooky way to launch your Halloween celebration.

Find the Ghoul Star of Perseus. Plus see moon and Mars

If you can locate the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia, you can find Perseus.  Then notice Algol, the Ghoul Star!

If you can locate the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia, you can find Perseus. Then notice Algol, the Ghoul Star!

Two sky tips for today. First, as Halloween approaches, try looking for the star Beta Persei, otherwise known as Algol in the constellation Perseus. This star’s proper name comes from the Arabic for head of the ghoul, or head of the demon. That’s why Algol is sometimes called the Ghoul Star. Second, have you been watching the moon lately? Find it near Mars again tonight!

Star system like a wheel within a wheel

View larger. |  This artist’s impression shows the dust and gas around the double star system GG Tauri-A. Researchers using ALMA have detected gas in the region between two discs in this binary system. This may allow planets to form in the gravitationally perturbed environment of the binary. Half of Sun-like stars are born in binary systems, meaning that these findings will have major consequences for the hunt for exoplanets.  Image via ESO/L. Calçada

Artist’s concept of dust and gas in multiple star system GG Tauri-A. Image via ESO/L. Calçada

Astronomers using the ALMA telescope in Chile have peered 460 light-years away – in the direction of our constellation Taurus – to discover a young multiple star system they say appears as a wheel within a wheel. In other words, there appear to be two disks, one within the other, and the astronomers have found gas flowing in the region between the two disks. They say this gas might let planets form in the gravitationally perturbed environment of this system.

Success in the search for quiet, distant quasars

Artist's concept of the heart of a quasar, via IAA-CSIC

Artist’s concept of the heart of an ultraluminous quasar, via IAA-CSIC

Astronomers at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) in Spain say they have at last discovered a population of quiet, distant quasars. Nearly all the quasars we see at great distances are ultraluminous, and no wonder. They must be extremely luminous in order for us to glimpse them over the vastness of space. And yet astronomers have thought there must be, at those same vast distances, some quasars that were relatively quiet. Now, they say, they’ve found some.

Ebola is at least 16 million years old, says study

Transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion. Image credit: Frederick Murphy / CDC.

Transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion. Image credit: Frederick Murphy / CDC.

Ebola’s first documented outbreak was in 1976. But the Ebola virus family has been around for 16 to 23 million years, says new research.

Extraordinary shot of moon’s far side and Earth, from Chang’e

View larger. |  Chinese Chang'e 5 test vehicle captured this extraordinary view of Earth over the far side of the moon on  October 28, 2014.

View of Earth over the far side of the moon on October 28, 2014, via Chinese Chang’e 5 test vehicle. Image via CNSA (China National Space Agency)

The Chinese Chang’e 5 test vehicle captured this extraordinary view of Earth over the far side of the moon yesterday. From Earth, the phase of the moon was a waxing crescent. From the moon, the Earth is in a waning gibbous phase. More detail about features visible on this photo on the far side of the moon, inside.

Planets – and maybe some meteors – in late October 2014

2014-oct-29-mars-moon-night-sky-chart

Astronomy is said to be the people’s science in part because anyone, regardless of training, can participate. There is so much you can observe in the sky even without a telescope, and of course meteors – also called shooting stars – are high on the list. Observing planets counts as a big thrill, too. On this late October 2014 night, you can catch the moon and two planets in the evening, sporadic meteors from late night till dawn, plus two planets in the morning sky.

Spectacular explosion at launch for Antares rocket

The unmanned Antares rocket carrying an unmanned satellite – and loaded with supplies for the International Space Station – exploded during launch at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia today (October 28, 2014). There are no causalities known at the time of this writing.

Where is the missing Deepwater Horizon oil?

The Deepwater Horizon oil is likely at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Deepwater Horizon oil is likely at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the more than four years since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an unsolved mystery has been the location of millions of barrels of submerged oil thought to be trapped in the deep ocean.

But now some of the missing oil has been found, say scientists. In a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday, a team of researchers have been able to describe the path about 2 million barrels of oil followed to its resting place on the deep ocean floor.