"It's very exciting to think that the dwarf planets could have astrobiological potential," says New Horizons lead scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. In 2011, the highly sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a strong ultraviolet-wavelength absorber on Pluto's surface, providing new evidence that points to the possibility of complex hydrocarbon and/or nitrile molecules lying on the surface, according to researchers from Southwest Research Institute and Nebraska Wesleyan University. These chemical species can be produced by the interaction of sunlight or cosmic rays with Pluto's known surface ices, including methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.
Continue reading ""Pluto and the Other Dwarf Planets Could Have Astrobiological Potential"" »
Composite view showing Neptune on Triton's horizon. Neptune's south pole is to the left; clearly visible in the planets' southern hemisphere is a Great Dark Spot, a large anticyclonic storm system located about 20 degrees South. The foreground is a computer generated view of Triton's maria as they would appear from a point approximately 45 km above the surface. The terraces visible in this image indicate multiple episodes of 'cryovolcanic' flooding. This three-dimensional view was created from a Voyager image by using a two-dimensional photoclinometric model. Relief has been exaggerated roughly 30-fold, the actual range of the relief is about 1 km.
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Superlatives are the trademark of the planet Jupiter. The magnetic field at the top edge of the cloud surrounding the largest member of the solar system is around ten times stronger than Earth’s, and is by far the largest magnetosphere around a planet in our Solar System. Just why this field has a similar structure to that of our own planet although the interiors of the two celestial objects have a completely different structure, has mystified researchers for a long time.
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The first breakthrough paper to come out of a massive U.S. expedition to one of Earth’s final frontiers shows that there’s life and an active ecosystem one-half mile below the surface of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, specifically in a lake that hasn’t seen sunlight or felt a breath of wind for millions of years. “We are looking at a water column that probably has about 4,000 things we call species. It’s incredibly diverse,” said Brent Christner, associate professor of biological sciences at Louisiana State University.
Continue reading "Microbial Life and Active Ecosystem Found in Antarctica Lake that Hasn't Seen Sunlight for Millions of Years" »
Four previously unknown galaxy clusters each potentially containing thousands of individual galaxies have been discovered some 10 billion light years from Earth. Most clusters in the universe today are dominated by giant elliptical galaxies in which the dust and gas has already been formed into stars. "What we believe we are seeing in these distant clusters are giant elliptical galaxies in the process of being formed," says David Clements, from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London.
Continue reading "Most Massive Known Galaxies Observed at Edge of the Universe (Today's Most Popular)" »
NGC 3603 is a very bright star cluster and is famed for having the highest concentration of massive stars that have been discovered in our galaxy so far. At the centre lies a Wolf–Rayet multiple star system, known as HD 97950. Wolf–Rayet stars are at an advanced stage of stellar evolution, and start off with around 20 times the mass of the Sun. But, despite this large mass, Wolf–Rayet stars shed a considerable amount of their matter due to intense stellar winds , which blast the star's surface material off into space at several million kilometres per hour, a crash diet of cosmic proportions.
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It came as something of a surprise when Center for Astrophysics astronomers and their colleagues discovered a faint line corresponding to no known element. Esra Bulbul, Adam Foster, Randall Smith, Scott Randall and their team were studying the averaged X-ray spectrum of a set of seventy-three clusters (including Virgo above) looking for emission lines too faint to be seen in any single one when they uncovered a line with no known match in a particular spectral interval not expected to have any features.
Continue reading "Harvard Astronomers Study Mystery Signal from No Known Element --"Is it the Long-Sought Dark Matter Particle?"" »
The universe has so many black holes that it’s impossible to count them all. There may be 100 million of these intriguing astral objects in our galaxy alone. Nearly all black holes fall into one of two classes: big, and colossal. Astronomers know that black holes ranging from about 10 times to 100 times the mass of our sun are the remnants of dying stars, and that supermassive black holes, more than a million times the mass of the sun, inhabit the centers of most galaxies.
Continue reading ""Music of Black Holes" --Astronomers Observe a Rhythmic Pattern of Light Pulses" »
How might humanity prepare for the possibility of discovering microbial or complex life beyond Earth? Scientists, historians, philosophers and theologians from around the world will convene at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center for two days in September to discuss: “Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth."
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Fedor Bezrukov from the RIKEN–BNL Research Center and Mikhail Shaposhnikov from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne propose that the Higgs boson, which was recently confirmed to be the origin of mass, may also be responsible for the mode of inflation and shape of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang. “There is an intriguing connection between the world explored in particle accelerators today and the earliest moments of the existence of the Universe,” explains Bezrukov.
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The worst mass extinction the Earth has ever seen occurred 252 million years ago. The boundary of the Permian and Triassic geological periods marked the demise of around 90 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species. Solving the intricate puzzles of mass extinctions is vital when it comes to understanding the external factors that could hinder life on other planets. Several theories have been proposed to explain this mass extinction, but scientists believe that the most likely trigger for this mass extinction was one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded.
Continue reading "Marine Fossils Offer New Clues to Cause of the "Great Dying" Extinction Event" »
NASA's Stardust Mission team reports that they have found seven dust motes that probably came from outside our solar system, perhaps created in a supernova explosion millions of years ago and altered by eons of exposure to the extremes of space. They would be the first confirmed samples of contemporary interstellar dust.
Continue reading "Microscopic Particles from an Ancient Supernova Captured by NASA's Stardust Mission" »
Scientists think that a giant asteroid, which broke up long ago in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, eventually made its way to Earth and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Following the February 2013 asteroid impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, there is renewed interest in figuring out how to deal with the potential hazard of an asteroid impact. Understanding what keeps asteroids intact can aid strategies to guard against future impacts that could destroy life as we know it.
Continue reading "Saving the Planet --Forces that Hold Gravity-Defying Asteroids Together Discovered" »
Hubble observations of IC 4499 have helped to pinpoint the cluster's age: observations of this cluster from the 1990s suggested a puzzlingly young age when compared to other globular clusters within the Milky Way. However, since those first estimates new Hubble data have been obtained and it has been found to be much more likely that IC 4499 is actually roughly the same age as other Milky Way clusters at approximately 12 billion years old.
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A new three-part series on The Science Channel --"Man vs. the Universe"-- set to air its first episode today, Wednesday (Aug. 13), aims to explore the new era of commercial and national space exploration.
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NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has captured an extreme and rare event in the regions immediately surrounding a supermassive black hole. A compact source of X-rays that sits near the black hole, called the corona, has moved closer to the black hole over a period of just days.
Continue reading "Rare X-Ray Corona Observed Collapsing into an Extreme Supermassive Black Hole" »
NASA's Cassini spacecraft recently captured images of clouds moving across the northern hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's moon Titan. This renewed weather activity, considered overdue by researchers, could finally signal the onset of summer storms that atmospheric models have long predicted.
Continue reading "Image of the Day: Clouds Over Titan's Hydrocarbon Seas" »
Of all species that have existed on Earth, 99.9 percent are now extinct. Many of them perished in five cataclysmic events. The classical "Big Five" mass extinctions identified by Raup and Sepkoski are widely agreed upon as some of the most significant: End Ordovician, Late Devonian, End Permian, End Triassic, and End Cretaceous. According to a recent poll, seven out of ten biologists think we are currently in the throes of a sixth mass extinction. Some say it could wipe out as many as 90 percent of all species living today. Other scientists dispute such dire projections.
Continue reading ""Four of Earth's Five Mass Extinctions Caused by Global Warming" --99.9 % of All Species that Existed Vanished" »
"Understanding organic dust is important, because such materials are more resistant to destruction during atmospheric entry, and some could have been delivered intact to the early Earth, thereby fueling the emergence of life,” said Michael Mumma, director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology. New observations and research from Chile's ALMA Observatory open a new window on this poorly known component of cometary organics.
Continue reading "Organic Dust of Comets --"It May Have Fueled the Emergence of Life"" »
Scientists hunting for life beyond Earth have discovered more than 1,800 planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, in recent years, but so far, no one has been able to confirm an exomoon. Now, physicists from The University of Texas at Arlington believe following a trail of radio wave emissions may lead them to that discovery. Their recent findings describe radio wave emissions that result from the interaction between Jupiter’s magnetic field and its moon Io (image above). They suggest using detailed calculations about the Jupiter/Io dynamic to look for radio emissions that could indicate moons orbiting an exoplanet.
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Just over a month after launch, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) -- NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide -- has maneuvered into its final operating orbit and produced its first science data. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world. It is a critical natural component of Earth's carbon cycle. NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will produce the most detailed picture to date of sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their natural "sinks" -- places on Earth's surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.
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At the ends of the Universe there are black holes with masses equaling billions of our sun. These giant bodies – quasars – feed on interstellar gas, swallowing large quantities of it non-stop. Thus they reveal their existence: The light that is emitted by the gas as it is sucked in and crushed by the black hole's gravity travels for eons across the Universe until it reaches our telescopes. Looking at the edges of the Universe is therefore looking into the past. These far-off, ancient quasars appear to us in their infancy, taken less than a billion years after the Big Bang. Since these ancient quasars were first discovered, scientists have wondered what process could lead a small black hole to gorge and fatten to such an extent, so soon after the Big Bang.
Continue reading ""Monsters at the End of the Universe" --Black Holes with Masses Equaling Billions of Suns" »
The image above is a composite of data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. The object seen at the center is an "ultraluminous X-ray source" (ULX) in a globular cluster belonging to an elliptical galaxy in the constellation of Fornax. Researchers suspect that the ULX represents a white dwarf star being destroyed an intermediate-mass black hole in the globular cluster.
Continue reading "Destruction of Stars Near Black Holes Occurs Once Every 30,000 Years" »
What we perceive as the big bang, physicists at the Perimeter Institure argue, could be the three-dimensional “mirage” of a collapsing star in a universe profoundly different than our own. Conventional understanding holds that the big bang began with a singularity – an unfathomably hot and dense phenomenon of spacetime where the standard laws of physics break down. Singularities are bizarre, and our understanding of them is limited.
Continue reading "The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time --"We may have Emerged from a Black Hole in a Higher-Dimensional Universe"" »
“Rotation can have a huge effect, and lots of planets that we previously thought were definitely not habitable now can be considered as candidates,” says Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago. New research has revealed that the rate at which a planet spins is instrumental in its ability to support life. Not only does rotation control the length of day and night, it can also tug on the winds that blow through the atmosphere and ultimately influence cloud formation.
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NASA's Cassini spacecraft will execute the largest planned maneuver of the spacecraft's remaining mission on Saturday, Aug. 9. The maneuver will target Cassini toward an Aug. 21 encounter with Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
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An international team of researchers has found extremely small habitats that increase the potential for life on other planets and moons such as Jupiter's Io and Saturn's Titan, while offering a way to clean up oil spills on our own. Looking at samples from Earth's largest natural asphalt lake, they found active microbes in droplets as small as a microliter, which is about 1/50th of a drop of water.
"We saw a huge diversity of bacteria and archaea," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor in Washington State University's School of the Environment and the only U.S. researcher on the team. "That's why we speak of an 'ecosystem,' because we have so much diversity in the water droplets."
Continue reading "Microhabitats Reveal Potential for Extraterrestrial life --"Jupiter's Io and Saturn's Titan are Prime Hotspots"" »
The dazzling light show that's currently happening in the nearby galaxy Messier 106, also known as NGC 4258, is 23.5 million light-years away from Earth, and is one of the Milky Way's closest neighbors, was captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Herschel Space Observatory.
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“Even after years of observing, a new picture of Uranus from Keck Observatory can stop me in my tracks and make me say Wow!,” said Heidi Hammel, a member of the observing team. In the past few days, astronomers were surprised by a multitude of bright storms on the planet, including one monstrous feature.
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