Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the most luminous events in the universe, releasing as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun does over its 10 billion year lifetime. They are thought to be the result of massive stars collapsing into black holes. Their huge luminosity helps astronomers to map out the location of distant galaxies.
Continue reading "Colossal Ring of Galaxies --"Largest Object in the Universe Spans 5 Billion Light Years"" »
Some neutron stars may rival black holes in their ability to accelerate powerful jets of material to nearly the speed of light, astronomers using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) have discovered. Black holes and neutron stars are respectively the densest and second most dense forms of matter known in the Universe. In binary systems where these extreme objects orbit with a more normal companion star, gas can flow from the companion to the compact object, producing spectacular displays when some of the material is blasted out in powerful jets at close to 99% the speed of light.
Continue reading "Neutron Star Jets Near Speed of Light --"Rival Those of Black Holes"" »
"The capacity of these organisms to switch between two distinct modes of reproduction shows just how sophisticated their underlying biology was, which is remarkable at a point in time when most other forms of life were incredibly simple," said Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences,
Continue reading "Early Earth --"Evidence Discovered of First Reproduction in Complex Organisms"" »
Astronomers have teased out that secret: a planet in a 3-day orbit that transits, or crosses in front of its star. At a distance of just 21 light-years, it is by far the closest transiting planet to Earth, which makes it ideal for follow-up studies. Moreover, it is the nearest rocky planet confirmed outside our solar system. Its host star is visible to the unaided eye from dark skies, meaning anyone with a good star map can see this record-breaking system.
Continue reading "Rocky Planet with a 3-Day Orbit --"Only 21 Light-Years Away"" »
Since 2001 the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, based at the University of Washington, has brought an interdisciplinary approach to the study of planets and search for life outside our solar system. The NASA initiative inspired by the UW lab is embracing that same team approach to bring together 10 universities and two research institutions in the ongoing search for life on planets around other stars.
Continue reading "NASA's Virtual Planetary Laboratory --A New "Systems" Approach to the Search for Alien Life" »
Long before Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars formed, it seems that the inner solar system may have harbored a number of super-Earths--planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. If so, those planets are long gone--broken up and fallen into the sun billions of years ago largely due to a great inward-and-then-outward journey that Jupiter made early in the solar system's history.
Continue reading ""Our Early Solar System Harbored SuperEarths" (Weekend Feature)" »
Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star. The groundbreaking discovery had been announced less than a week earlier by the European team of Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. But the news was met with some initial skepticism in the astronomical community. By a stroke of good luck, Marcy and Butler happened to have previously scheduled observation time on a 120-inch telescope at the Lick Observatory, atop California's Mount Hamilton.
Continue reading ""A Universe of Planets" --A Short History of NASA's Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System" »
"SOHO has a view of about 12 and a half million miles beyond the sun," said Joe Gurman, the mission scientist for SOHO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "So we expected it might from time to time see a bright comet near the sun. But nobody dreamed we'd approach 200 a year."
Continue reading "NASA's Amazing Comet Hunter --"Nobody Dreamed We'd Approach 200 a Year"" »
Scientists with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III (SDSS) have created a new map of the Milky Way that provides the first clear evidence of migration of stars throughout our galaxy. The study, which determined that 30 percent of stars have traveled across the galaxy, is bringing a new understanding of how stars are formed and travel throughout the Milky Way.
Continue reading "Thirty Percent of Stars Have Migrated Across the Milky Way --"Was Our Sun One?"" »
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii have made independent confirmations of an exoplanet orbiting far from its central star. The planet was discovered through a technique called gravitational microlensing.
Continue reading "NASA: Searching for Alien Planets Far From Their Host Star" »
Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data. Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away. While the planet itself can't be seen directly, even by telescopes, the star it orbits is visible to the naked eye in dark skies in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star.
Continue reading "NASA: "The Rosetta Stone for Super-Earths?"" »
Recent data from NASA’s New Horizons probe — which passed within 7,800 miles of the surface on July 14 — have revealed striking features on Pluto's heart-shaped region that indicate the icy dwarf planet may harbor an ocean deep in its interior, according to mission scientists during a July 24 press briefing. They also provided new information about Pluto's thin atmosphere.
Continue reading "MIT: "An Interior Ocean May be Driving Geologic Activity on Pluto"" »
"The red arcs really popped out when we saw the new images," said Cassini participating scientist Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. "It's surprising how extensive these features are."
Continue reading "Unexplained Red Arcs Observed on Saturn's Moon Tethys" »
The coalescence of two black holes -- a very violent and exotic event -- is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been impossible so far.
Continue reading "Black Hole Collisions --"Astronomers 'Hear' Them Via Gravity Signals"" »
By observing a brown dwarf 20 light-years away using both radio and optical telescopes, a team led by Gregg Hallinan, assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech, has found another feature that makes these so-called failed stars more like supersized planets--they host powerful auroras near their magnetic poles.
Continue reading "Giant Planet-Like Brown Dwarfs --"Harbor Powerful, Pulsing Auroras"" »
"We are witnessing a single recent accretion event where a medium-sized galaxy fell through the center of Messier 87, and as a consequence of the enormous gravitational tidal forces, its stars are now scattered over a region that is 100 times larger than the original galaxy!" said Ortwin Gerhard, head of the dynamics group at the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik.
Continue reading "ESO: "An Entire Spiral Galaxy Fell Through the Center of Massive Elliptical Galaxy M87" " »
The lack of lithium in older stars is a long-standing puzzle. Lithium has now been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO's La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain the mystery of why many young stars seem to have more of this chemical element than expected. This finding fills in a missing piece in the puzzle representing our galaxy's chemical evolution, and is a big step forward for astronomers trying to understand the amounts of different chemical elements in stars in the Milky Way.
Continue reading "Found! "The Missing Piece in a Long-Standing Milky Way Puzzle"" »
When life on Earth began nearly 4 billion years ago, long before humans, dinosaurs or even the earliest single-celled forms of life roamed, it may have started as a hiccup rather than a roar: small, simple molecular building blocks known as "monomers" coming together into longer "polymer" chains and falling apart in the warm pools of primordial ooze over and over again.
Continue reading "New Theory of the Molecular Origins of Life" »
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has been used to detect the most distant clouds of star-forming gas yet found in normal galaxies in the early Universe. The new observations allow astronomers to start to see how the first galaxies were built up and how they cleared the cosmic fog during the era of reionization. This is the first time that such galaxies are seen as more than just faint blobs.
Continue reading "ALMA Observatory: "Pierces Cosmic Fog of the Early Universe"" »
The Standard Model is the mainstream theory of all the fundamental particles that make up matter, and the forces that govern them. But the model has weaknesses: it doesn't explain dark matter or dark energy, which jointly make up 95 percent of the universe. Nor is it compatible with Einstein's theory of general relativity the force of gravity as we know it does not seem to work at the subatomic quantum scale.
Continue reading "Supersymmetry? --"Standard Model of the Universe Fails to Explain Dark Matter or Dark Energy"" »
"Data from orbiting telescopes like NASA's Kepler Mission hint that the tally of habitable planets in our galaxy is many billion. If E.T.'s not out there, then Earth is more than merely special - it's some sort of miracle."
Continue reading "Today's 'Galaxy' Insight --The Search for Habitable Planets" »
It is estimated that there are millions of Earth-like planets in our Galaxy. However, most of these are out of our observational abilities for the coming decades, and probably many centuries. Only a small fraction of these planets, the ones that transit their star, are good enough for better characterization and to confirm their potential for life. This result suggests that there are over 8,500 transiting very Earth-like planets within reach of NASA Kepler-like missions, assuming the Kepler field is representative of all the sky. This sample is enough to occupy astronomers for many years.
Continue reading " "A Galaxy of Earth-like Planets" --The Kepler Mission Revolution" »
Astronomers have long known that powerful cosmic winds can sometimes blow through galaxies, sweeping out interstellar material and stopping future star formation. Now they have a clearer snapshot of how it happens. Now, a Yale University analysis based on Hubble images the Pillars of Creation and a spiral galaxy in the Coma cluster, located 300 million light years from Earth zeroes in on the effect of cosmic winds. It is the closest high-mass cluster to our solar system. Yale astronomer Jeffrey Kenney first saw the images two years ago and realized their possible significance in understanding the way ram pressure strips interstellar material throughout the universe.
Continue reading "Cosmic Winds Sweep Through Galaxies --"Creating the Last Generation of Stars"" »
"Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages," Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, was reported as saying. "It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe."
Continue reading "China Building World's Largest Radio Telescope--"Will Search for Intelligent Life Outside of Milky Way"" »
A ripple in the outskirts of the Milky Way—and a hunch—led Rochester Institute of Technology astrophysicist Sukanya Chakrabarti to a previously undetected dwarf galaxy hidden under a veil of dark matter. Now Chakrabarti is refining her technique to uncover dwarf galaxies and understand dark matter by simulating the evolutionary histories of galactic disks, rich in atomic hydrogen, and their satellite populations.
Continue reading "Ripple at Edge of the Milky Way --"Reveals Veil of Dark Matter Cloaking a Dwarf Galaxy"" »
A new image from the New Horizons spacecraft’s Pluto flyby has revealed a second mountain range within a heart-shaped region on the dwarf planet’s surface that lies near the southwestern margin of the heart-shaped area dubbed “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) by scientists. Last week NASA released its first closeup image of an area near Pluto’s equator, which contains a range of mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet.
Continue reading "Pluto Flyby --Reveals New Mountain Range & Red Moon" »
"We have seen this kind of particle before. It has the same properties - same type of mass, the same type of interactions, in the same type of theory of strong interactions that gave forth the ordinary pions. It is incredibly exciting that we may finally understand why we came to exist," says Hitoshi Murayama, Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo.
Continue reading "Dark Matter Enigma --"Remarkably Similar to Particles Known Since the 1930s"" »
When the first galaxies started to form a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, the Universe was full of a fog of hydrogen gas. But as more and more brilliant sources -- both stars and quasars powered by huge black holes -- started to shine they cleared away the mist and made the Universe transparent to ultraviolet light. Astronomers call this the epoch of reionisation, but little is known about these first galaxies, and up to now they have just been seen as very faint blobs. But now new observations using the power of ALMA are starting to change this.
Continue reading "First Galaxies of the Universe --"Revealed By Glowing Carbon"" »
Quantum theory is one of the great achievements of 20th century science, yet physicists have struggled to find a clear boundary between our everyday world and what Albert Einstein called the "spooky" features of the quantum world, including cats that could be both alive and dead, and photons that can communicate with each other across space instantaneously.
Continue reading "Universe of Quantum Strangeness --The 'Reality' Boundary Grows Foggier" »
"Band 5 will open up new possibilities to explore the Universe and bring new discoveries," explains ESO's Gianni Marconi, who is responsible for the integration of Band 5. "The frequency range of this receiver includes an emission line of water that ALMA will be able to study in nearby regions of star formation. The study of water is, of course, of intense interest because of its role in the origin of life."
Continue reading "ESO: "Band 5 Will Search for Water in the Local Universe"" »