A hidden treasure

This photograph of the Crescent Moon shows sunlight passing skimming through the strongly marked surface, filling its crater shadows. This is a fairly smooth region of the moon, but elsewhere is high mountains, with some peaks reach about 5000 meters. When illuminated by the Sun, these mountains cast long shadows on the lunar surface. Way back in 1600, Galileo Galilei used these long shadows for determining the height of the peaks. At the poles of the Moon (not seen in this photograph) some permanently shadowed craters are bases and some may not have been illuminated by the Sun for billions of years. Scientists had long suspected that these dark and permanently cold regions of the Moon could harbor water ice, but it was not until late 2009 that found evidence for this.

In a NASA mission called LCROSS (and Sensing Satellite Lunar Crater Observation by its acronym), a booster rocket out to crash into the south pole of the Moon was sent, while the remaining part of the spacecraft It is seeking evidence of water between the ejected debris. The mission was a success and their findings confirmed the presence of water ice in these dark craters. The finding has important implications for the future of human exploration of the moon and elsewhere in the Solar System.

Splendor in core of Omega Centauri

The core of the spectacular globular cluster Omega Centauri glitters with the combined light of 2 million stars. The entire cluster contains 10 million stars, and is among the biggest and most massive of some 200 globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way Galaxy. Omega Centauri lies 17,000 light-years from Earth. Astronomers Eva Noyola, of the Max-Planck Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and Karl Gebhardt of the University of Texas at Austin, have reported on the possible detection of an intermediate-mass black hole in the core of Omega Centauri. The result is primarily based on spectroscopic measurements obtained with the Gemini South observatory in Chile which suggest the stars are moving around the central core of the cluster at higher than expected velocities.

Among the possible explanations for these speedy stars, and the one favored by their study, is that an intermediate-mass black hole of approximately 40,000 solar masses resides at the center of Omega Centauri. Its powerful gravitational field speeds up the motions of stars near the core. Astronomers have speculated for years that some globular clusters may harbor in their centers medium-size, or intermediate-mass, black holes with masses of some tens of thousands of suns. Medium-size black holes are much less massive than the supermassive black holes, which are up to billions of solar masses and reside in the centers of large galaxies.

Hubble images taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys were used in key areas in support of this study: to help pinpoint the center of the cluster, as well as to measure the amount of starlight at the cluster center. Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Paranal, Chile, Noyola and Gebhardt are planning to obtain follow-up observations to help confirm the existence of an intermediate-mass black hole.

Lobo Azul / UMP

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), Acknowledgment: A. Cool (San Francisco State University) and J. Anderson (STScI)

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