Evidence left at the crime scene is abundant and global: Fossil remains show that sometime around 252 million years ago, about 90 percent of all species on Earth were suddenly wiped out — by far the largest of this planet’s five known mass extinctions. But pinpointing the culprit has been difficult, and controversial.
Continue reading "MIT: "Largest of the Five Mass Extinctions Caused By Microbes" (Today's Most Popular)" »
NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.
Continue reading ""A Billion Miles Beyond Pluto" -- NASA New Horizons to Probe Unexplored Kuiper Belt Objects" »
We only have one example of a planet with life: Earth. But within the next generation, it should become possible to detect signs of life on planets orbiting distant stars. If we find alien life, new questions will arise. For example, did that life arise spontaneously? Or could it have spread from elsewhere? If life crossed the vast gulf of interstellar space long ago, how would we tell?
Continue reading "Harvard-Smithsonian CfA: "Did Life Spread Like an Epidemic Across the Vast Gulf of Interstellar Space?"" »
Astrophysicists have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth, using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery of two supermassive black holes--one larger one and a second, smaller one--are evidence of a binary black hole and suggests that supermassive black holes assemble their masses through violent mergers.
Continue reading "Quasar Nearest to Earth Harbors Two Supermassive Black Holes" »
Astronomers have found evidence for a faded electron cloud "coming back to life," much like the mythical phoenix, after two galaxy clusters collided. This "radio phoenix," so-called because the high-energy electrons radiate primarily at radio frequencies, is found in Abell 1033. The system is located about 1.6 billion light years from Earth.
Continue reading "Cosmic Collision Triggers Rebirth of a "Radio Phoenix"" »
A team of international scientists has shown for the first time that galaxies can change their structure over the course of their lifetime. By observing the sky as it is today, and peering back in time using the Hubble and Herschel telescopes, the team have shown that a large proportion of galaxies have undergone a major 'metamorphosis' since they were initially formed after the Big Bang.
Continue reading ""Metamorphosis" --The Evolution of Galaxies: The Basic Building Block of the Observable Universe" »
The shimmering colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image show off the remarkable complexity of the Twin Jet Nebula. The new image highlights the nebula's shells and its knots of expanding gas in striking detail. Two iridescent lobes of material stretch outwards from a central star system. Within these lobes two huge jets of gas are streaming from the star system at speeds in excess of one million kilometers per hour.
Continue reading "Image of the Day --The Spectacular Core of the Twin Jet Nebula" »
Bizarre creatures that go years without water. Others that can survive the vacuum of open space. Some of the most unusual organisms found on Earth provide insights for Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch to predict what life could be like elsewhere in the universe.
Continue reading ""Staggering" --Exploring the Limits of What Life Might Be Like in the Universe" »
Everything that is changing around and within us - from the relatively simple motion of celestial bodies, to weather and complex biological processes - is a dynamical system. A large part of science is guessing the laws of nature that underlie such systems, summarizing them in mathematical equations that can be used to make predictions, and then testing those equations and predictions through experiments.
Continue reading "First-Generation "Robot Scientist" to Search for Underlying Laws of Nature " »
The second ice age during the Cryogenian period was not followed by the sudden and chaotic melting-back of the ice as previously thought, but ended with regular advances and retreats of the ice, according to research published by scientists from the University of Birmingham. The researchers also found that the constant advance and retreat of ice during this period was caused by the Earth wobbling on its axis.
Continue reading "New Insights Into "Snowball Earth" --"The Most Extreme Climatic Conditions Ever Known"" »
Tiny beads of volcanic glass found on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions are a sign that fire fountain eruptions took place on the Moon's surface. Now, scientists from Brown University and the Carnegie Institution for Science have identified the volatile gas that drove those eruptions.
Continue reading "Apollo Mission "Volcanic Fire Eruption" Mystery --Solved?" »
A recalculation of the dates at which boulders were uncovered by melting glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age has conclusively shown that the glacial retreat was due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as opposed to other types of forces. Carbon dioxide levels are now significantly higher than they were at that time, as a result of the Industrial Revolution and other human activities since then. Because of that, the study confirms predictions of future glacial retreat, and that most of the world's glaciers may disappear in the next few centuries.
Continue reading "Glacial Retreat During Last Ice Age --"Caused by Greenhouse Gases"" »
In the search for life beyond Earth, scientists have justifiably focused on water because all biology as we know it requires this fluid. A wild card, however, is whether alternative liquids can also suffice as life-enablers. For example, Saturn’s frigid moon Titan is awash in inky seas of the hydrocarbon methane.
Continue reading "ExoMolecules on Other Worlds --"Could Fulfill Roles of DNA and RNA" (Weekend Feature)" »
Physicists suggest a new way to look for dark matter: they believe that dark matter particles annihilate into so-called dark radiation when they collide. If true, then we should be able to detect the signals from this radiation. The majority of the mass in the Universe remains unknown. Despite knowing very little about this dark matter, its overall abundance is precisely measured. In other words: Physicists know it is out there, but they have not yet detected it.
Continue reading "Beyond the Quantum --"Will the Discovery of Dark Matter Revolutionize Our World?"" »
Dark energy is hiding in our midst in the form of hypothetical particles called “chameleons,” Holger Müller and his team at UC Berkeley plan to flush them out. The results of an experiment reported in this week’s issue of Science narrows the search for chameleons a thousand times compared to previous tests, and Müller, an assistant professor of physics, hopes that his next experiment will either expose chameleons or similar ultralight particles as the real dark energy, or prove they were a will-o’-the-wisp after all.
Continue reading "New Research Asks: "Is Dark Energy a Hidden 5th Force?"" »
Researchers using the IceCube Neutrino Observatory have sorted through the billions of subatomic particles that zip through its frozen cubic-kilometer-sized detector each year to gather powerful new evidence in support of 2013 observations confirming the existence of cosmic neutrinos. The evidence is important because it heralds a new form of astronomy using neutrinos, the nearly massless high-energy particles generated in nature's accelerators: black holes, massive exploding stars and the energetic cores of galaxies.
Continue reading "Confirmed! Discovery of Cosmic Neutrinos from Beyond Our Galaxy" »
An international team of astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics has been scouring cosmic images of X-ray emission, hunting for elusive clues that reveal the culprit responsible for violent acts that have left deep scars on the heart of the Milky Way. The prime suspect is the supermassive black hole lurking at the center of the Milky Way, with a number of massive stars also implicated as suicide bombers.
Continue reading "New Images of Milky Way's Center: "Catastrophic Events Caused By the Supermasssive Black Hole"" »
Ironically, the largest planets in the solar system likely formed first. Jupiter and Saturn, which are mostly hydrogen and helium, presumably accumulated their gasses before the solar nebula dispersed. Observations of young star systems show that the gas disks that form planets usually have lifetimes of only 1 to 10 million years, which means the gas giant planets in our solar system probably formed within this time frame. In contrast, the Earth probably took at least 30 million years to form, and may have taken as long as 100 million years. So how could Jupiter and Saturn have formed so quickly?
Continue reading "Solved: The Mystery of How Saturn and Jupiter Were Formed" »
A newly discovered dwarf galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way has offered up a surprise -- it appears to be radiating gamma rays, according to an analysis by physicists at Carnegie Mellon, Brown, and Cambridge universities. The exact source of this high-energy light is uncertain at this point, but it just might be a signal of dark matter lurking at the galaxy's center.
Continue reading "Dwarf Galaxy Orbiting the Milky Way --"May Be Signaling Dark Matter From Its Core"" »
A new study shown that meteorite impacts on ancient oceans may have created nucleobases and amino acids. Researchers from Tohoku University, National Institute for Materials Science and Hiroshima University discovered this after conducting impact experiments simulating a meteorite hitting an ancient ocean.
Continue reading "Meteorite Impacts on Ancient Oceans --"May Have Created the Genetic Molecules That Led to Life"" »
"There are far-reaching implications for this discovery," said Tiago Campante, from the University of Birmingham's School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the research. "We now know that Earth-sized planets have formed throughout most of the Universe's 13.8 billion year history, which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the Galaxy. By the time the Earth formed, the planets in this system were already older than our planet is today. This discovery may now help to pinpoint the beginning of what we might call the "era of planet formation."
Continue reading "Existence of a Solar System Twice the Age of Ours --"Has Far-Reaching Implications" (Today's Feature)" »
A remote galaxy shining with the light of more than 300 trillion suns was discovered this past May using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy is the most luminous galaxy found to date and belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE -- extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs. The brilliant galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas.
Continue reading "Did NASA Discover the Brightest Galaxy in the Universe? (Today's Most Popular)" »
Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey, using one of the world’s most powerful digital cameras, the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, mounted on the 4-meter Blanco telescope at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, have discovered eight faint celestial objects hovering near our Milky Way galaxy. Signs indicate that they, like objects found by the same team earlier this year, are likely dwarf satellite galaxies, the smallest and closest known form of galaxies.
Continue reading "Dark Energy 'Mission' Discovers Eight Celestial Objects Hovering Near the Milky Way" »
A spectacular galaxy collision has been discovered lurking behind the Milky Way, some 30 million light years away, which means that it is relatively close by. It has been dubbed “Kathryn’s Wheel” both after the famous firework that it resembles. It's the closest such system ever found, the discovery was announced today by a team of astronomers led by Prof. Quentin Parker at the University of Hong-Kong and Prof. Albert Zijlstra at the University of Manchester.
Continue reading "Spectacular Galaxy Collision Discovered 'Hidden' Behind the Milky Way" »
Computer simulations show that the extra friction from a galaxy collision would make the dark matter slow down. The nature of that interaction is unknown; it could be caused by well-known effects or some exotic unknown force. All that can be said at this point is that it is not gravity.
Continue reading "Colliding Galaxies Reveal 1st Intriguing Hints About the Nature of Dark Matter --"Deepens the Mystery" (Weekend Feature)" »
"We know that dark matter is needed in our Galaxy to keep the stars and gas rotating at their observed speeds," says Dr. Miguel Pato, at Technische Universität München. "However, we still do not know what dark matter is composed of. This is one of the most important science questions of our times."
Continue reading "Journey to Milky Way's Center --"The Search for the Existence of Dark Matter" (Weekend Feature)" »
Astronomers have spied a new alien world that they believe strikingly resembles a young Jupiter. Using a new instrument, the Gemini Planet Imager, they spotted 51 Eridani b, still warm and luminous from its formation. But what can this distant exoplanet, orbiting a star approximately 100 light years away, teach us about the solar system Jupiter calls home?
Continue reading "Alien 'Jupiter' Discovery--"Might Hold the Key to the Rise of Solar Systems"" »
Rogue supernovas that explode all alone in deep space present an astronomical mystery. Where did they come from? How did they get there? The likely answer: a binary black hole slingshot, according to a new study by Ryan Foley, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Illinois.
Continue reading "Rogue Supernovas Observed in Deep Space --"An Astronomical Mystery"" »
The recently commissioned Gemini Planet Imager has made its first exoplanet discovery: what may be the lowest-mass exoplanet ever directly imaged with a space telescope instrument. Based on available data, the researchers project the planet weighs twice as much as Jupiter - far less than exoplanets directly imaged before, which weighed at least five times Jupiter's mass.
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What could the first intellgent species of an alien planet look like? Imagine a skeleton-less creature with three hearts, with most of its nearly half a billion neurons distributed in eight tentacular arms. Each arm can regenerate like the mythical Hydra and has a mind of its own. Its muscles stiffen into temporary elbows and shoulders. This creature has the eerie capability of perfect camouflage and decorates its lair with leftovers of its prey.
Continue reading "Decoding the Genome of an Alien --Today's Feature" »