“We’re combining techniques to discover new information about how planets form, their range of properties and what sorts of planets are most common, with the eventual goal of finding terrestrial planets and venues for life in the universe,” said James Graham, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy who leads the new “Exoplanets Unveiled” project.
The Tau Ceti system, popularized in several fictional works, including Star Trek, has long been used in science fiction, and even popular news, as a very likely place to have life due to its proximity to Earth and the star's sun-like characteristics. Since December 2012 Tau Ceti has become even more appealing, thanks to evidence of possibly five planets orbiting it, with two of these - Tau Ceti e and f - potentially residing in the habitable zone.
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science, wrote Edwin Hubble. "At the last dim horizon, we search among ghostly errors of observations for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. The urge is older than history. It is not satisfied and it will not be oppressed. The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons."
The terahertz region of the spectrum is chock-full of information. Everything in the universe that is warmer than about 10 degrees Kelvin (-263 degrees Celsius) gives off terahertz radiation. Even at these very low temperatures molecules can rotate in space, yielding unique fingerprints in the terahertz. Astronomers using telescopes such as Caltech's Submillimeter Observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, and the Herschel Space Observatory are searching stellar nurseries and planet-forming disks at terahertz frequencies, looking for such chemical fingerprints to try to determine the kinds of molecules that are present and thus available to planetary systems. But in just a single chunk of the sky, it would not be unusual to find signatures of 25 or more different molecules.
A new technique has been developed that does not depend on finding a planetary transit, so it can potentially be used to study many more exoplanets. It allows the planetary spectrum to be directly detected in visible light, which means that different characteristics of the planet that are inaccessible to other techniques can be inferred. The challenge is similar to trying to study the faint glimmer reflected off a tiny insect flying around a distant and brilliant light.
"We are fortunate enough to live on a planet that is ideal for the development of complex life," says New York University Biology Professor Michael Rampino. "But the history of the Earth is punctuated by large scale extinction events, some of which we struggle to explain. It may be that dark matter - the nature of which is still unclear but which makes up around a quarter of the universe - holds the answer. As well as being important on the largest scales, dark matter may have a direct influence on life on Earth."
Henize 2-10 is a small irregular galaxy that is not too far away in astronomical terms -- 30 million light-years. "This is a dwarf starburst galaxy -- a small galaxy with regions of very rapid star formation -- about 10 percent of the size of our own Milky Way," says co-author Ryan Hickox, an assistant professor in Dartmouth's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "If you look at it, it's a blob, but it surprisingly harbors a central black hole."
As two galaxies enter the final stages of merging, scientists have theorized that the galaxies' supermassive black holes will form a "binary," or two black holes in such close orbit they are gravitationally bound to one another. In a new study, astronomers at the University of Maryland present direct evidence of a pulsing quasar, which may substantiate the existence of black hole binaries.
Getting through a supervoid can take millions of years, even at the speed of light, so this measurable effect, known as the Integrated Sachs-Wolfe (ISW) effect, might provide the first explanation one of the most significant anomalies found to date in the CMB, first by a NASA satellite called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), and more recently, by Planck, a satellite launched by the European Space Agency.
“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”
Neutrinos are a type of particle that pass through just about everything in their path from even the most distant regions of the universe. The Earth is constantly bombarded by billions of neutrinos, which zip right through the entire globe, houses, animals, people - everything. Only very rarely do they react with matter, but the giant IceCube experiment at the South Pole can detect when there is a collision between neutrinos and atoms in the ice using a network of detectors. New research results from the Niels Bohr Institute among others have measured the neutrinos at the South Pole and have calculated some of the physical properties of the otherwise exotic and poorly understood particles.
"Massive dead spheroids contain about half of all the stars that the Universe has produced during its entire life," said Sandro Tacchella of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, lead author of the article. "We cannot claim to understand how the Universe evolved and became as we see it today unless we understand how these galaxies come to be."
Complex organic molecules such as formamide, from which sugars, amino acids and even nucleic acids essential for life can be made, already appear in the regions where stars similar to our Sun are born. Astrophysicists from Spain and other countries have detected this biomolecule in five protostellar clouds and propose that it forms on tiny dust grains.
This is an approximately real-color image from the Hubble Space Telescope, of galaxy cluster Abell 3827. The galaxy cluster is made of hundreds of yellowish galaxies. At its core, four giant galaxies are smashing into each other. As the topmost of the four galaxies fell in, it left its dark matter trailing behind. The dark matter is invisible in this image, but its position is revealed by tell-tale gravitational lensing of an unrelated spiral galaxy behind the cluster, whose distorted image is seen as a blue arc. Trailing dark matter is predicted by theories in which dark matter is not perfectly dark, but feels more of the fundamental forces than just gravity.
We can imagine the story of the life behind this image of a human hand print made some 30,000 years ago during the Aurignacian period (30,000–32,000 BP) on the wall of the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France. The cave was closed off by a rock fall approximately 20,000 years BP and remained sealed until its discovery in 1994. The cave houses 1,000 of the earliest-known and best-preserved figurative drawings in the world.
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Astronomers have discovered one of the most distant planets known, a gas giant about 13,000 light-years from Earth, called OGLE-2014-BLG-0124L. The planet was discovered using a technique called microlensing, and the help of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, or OGLE. In this artist's illustration, planets discovered with microlensing are shown in yellow. The farthest lies in the center of our galaxy, 25,000 light-years away.
For the first time dark matter may have been observed interacting with other dark matter in a way other than through the force of gravity. Observations of colliding galaxies made with ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have picked up the first intriguing hints about the nature of this mysterious component of the Universe.
This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on April 9 and downlinked to Earth the following day. It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. The image is a preliminary reconstruction, which will be refined later by the New Horizons science team. Clearly visible are both Pluto and the Texas-sized Charon. The image was made from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)-roughly the distance from the Sun to Venus. At this distance, neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved by the color imager, but their distinctly different appearances can be seen. As New Horizons approaches its flyby of Pluto on July 14, it will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.
"There are still a lot of mysteries about Titan, said University of Washington astronomer Benjamin Charnay We still don't know how a thick nitrogen atmosphere formed, where the methane comes from nor how Titan's sand forms. And it is not completely excluded that life can be there, perhaps in its methane seas or lakes. So Titan really is a fascinating and evolving world, which has to be understood as a whole."
After searching out of 100,000 galaxies that the WISE spacecraft could see in sufficient detail, none of them is widely populated by an alien civilization using most of the starlight in its galaxy for its own purposes. "That's interesting because these galaxies are billions of years old, which should have been plenty of time for them to have been filled with alien civilizations, if they exist," said Jason T. Wright, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University. "Either they don't exist, or they don't yet use enough energy for us to recognize them." Or, perhaps, we as yet don't know exactly what to look for or how?
Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey have released the first in a series of dark matter maps of the cosmos. These maps, created with one of the world's most powerful digital cameras, are the largest contiguous maps created at this level of detail and will improve our understanding of dark matter's role in the formation of galaxies. Analysis of the clumpiness of the dark matter in the maps will also allow scientists to probe the nature of the mysterious dark energy, believed to be causing the expansion of the universe to speed up.
Every 20 to 30 years, Saturn's atmosphere roils with giant, planet-encircling thunderstorms that produce intense lightning and enormous cloud disturbances. The head of one of these storms—popularly called "great white spots," in analogy to the Great Red Spot of Jupiter—can be as large as Earth. Unlike Jupiter's spot, which is calm at the center and has no lightning, the Saturn spots are active in the center and have long tails that eventually wrap around the planet.
About 160 globular clusters have been spotted encircling our galaxy, the Milky Way, mostly toward its central bulge. These clusters are among the oldest objects in the Universe. And since the stars within a globular cluster formed from the same cloud of interstellar matter at roughly the same time — typically over 10 billion years ago — they are all low-mass stars, as lightweights burn their hydrogen fuel supply much more slowly than stellar behemoths. Globular clusters formed during the earliest stages in the formation of their host galaxies and therefore studying these objects can give significant insights into how galaxies, and their component stars, evolve.
The conditions on Venus are hard to describe. Many planetary scientists say "Start by imagining Hell and working up from there." It's an environment where words like "over 500 degrees Celsius" get thrown around, and it's flat-out crushed every probe we've sent into it. Now, it looks like Venus (NASA image above) has some company beyond our solar system. As part of the PlanetS National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR), astronomers from the Universities of Geneva (UNIGE) and Bern, Switzerland, have come to measure the temperature of the atmosphere of an exoplanet with unequaled precision, by crossing two approaches.
In one of the most comprehensive multi-observatory galaxy surveys yet, astronomers find that galaxies like our Milky Way underwent a stellar "baby boom," churning out stars at a prodigious rate, about 30 times faster than today. Our sun, however, is a late "boomer." The Milky Way's star-birthing frenzy peaked 10 billion years ago, but our sun was late for the party, not forming until roughly 5 billion years ago. By that time the star formation rate in our galaxy had plunged to a trickle.
Certain types of supernovae, or exploding stars, are more diverse than previously thought, a University of Arizona-led team of astronomers has discovered. The results, reported in two papers published in the Astrophysical Journal, have implications for big cosmological questions, such as how fast the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang. Most importantly, the findings hint at the possibility that the acceleration of the expansion of the universe might not be quite as fast as textbooks say.
"Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now, said Matthew Clarkson, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences. "This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions."