Is it possible that our original home exists as a great collection of stars, a star cluster known as Messier 67 (shown above), a gathering of suns and stellar remnants some 2,700 light-years distant that contains more than a hundred stars that bear a striking resemblance to the Sun. Astronomers have searched for star clusters in our galaxy whose members come close to matching the Sun’s elemental composition and age. This past January, astronomers using ESO's HARPS planet hunter in Chile, along with other telescopes around the world, discovered three planets orbiting stars in the cluster Messier 67 shown above. Although more than one thousand planets outside the Solar System are now confirmed, only a handful have been found in star clusters. Remarkably one of these new exoplanets is orbiting a star that is a rare solar twin — a star that is almost identical to the Sun in all respects.
Continue reading "Did Our Solar System Originate in a Distant Star Cluster? " »
This panorama photo, taken by ESO's Yuri Beletsky, shows the view of the starry sky from the site of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal in Chile during the total lunar eclipse of 21 December 2010. The reddish disc of the Moon is seen on the right of the image, while the Milky Way arches across the heavens in all its beauty. Another faint glow of light is also visible, surrounding the brilliant planet Venus in the bottom left corner of the picture. This phenomenon, known as zodiacal light, is produced by sunlight reflecting off dust in the plane of the planets. It is so faint that it’s normally obscured by moonlight or light pollution.
Continue reading "Unearthly Zodiacal Light --A Fossil Clue to the Origin of Our Solar System" »
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is monitoring the evolution of a mysterious feature in a large hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan. The feature covers an area of about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest seas on Titan. It has now been observed twice by Cassini's radar experiment, but its appearance changed between the two apparitions.
Continue reading "Cassini Spacecraft Tracks Mystery Object in a Titan Sea" »
A planet may be causing the star it orbits to act much older than it actually is, according to new data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This discovery shows how a massive planet can affect the behavior of its parent star. The star, WASP-18, and its planet, WASP-18b, are located about 330 light-years from Earth. WASP-18b has a mass about 10 times that of Jupiter and completes one orbit around its star in less than 23 hours, placing WASP-18b in the “hot Jupiter” category of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system.
Continue reading "Extreme Alien Planet Found -"One of the Most Massive Known Exoplanets"" »
Thanks to advances in a niche field called paleobiochemistry, researchers in the last decade have started to “resurrect” ancient proteins. Studying these proteins’ properties is offering us glimpses of what life was like in bygone epochs.
Continue reading "Resurrecting 4-Billion-Year-Old Proteins to Decode Earth's Early Epochs --"Will Aid Our Search for Life in the Universe"" »
"The implication of these findings is that some of the solar system's water must have been inherited from the Sun's birth environment, and thus predate the Sun itself. If our solar system's formation was typical, this implies that water is a common ingredient during the formation of all planetary systems.
Continue reading ""Prevalence of Life Throughout Milky Way" --Suggested By Discovery of Earth's Water Predating Birth of Sun" »
Experimental evidence may one day provide physical proof as to whether or not black holes exist in the universe. But for now, theorectical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton at the University of North Carolina says the mathematics are conclusive: they don’t exist. By merging two seemingly conflicting theories, Mersini-Houghton, has proven, mathematically, that black holes can never come into being in the first place. The work not only forces scientists to reimagine the fabric of space-time, but also rethink the origins of the universe.
Continue reading ""Black Holes Can Never Come into Being" --New Theory Forces Scientists to Rethink Whether Big Bang Ever Happened" »
Hunting from a distance of 27,000 light years, astronomers have discovered an unusual carbon-based molecule – one with a branched structure – contained within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. The discovery suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.
Continue reading "Complex Organic Molecules Found in Giant Gas Cloud Near Milky Way’s Galactic Center" »
Machines already have superhuman strength, speed and stamina – and one day they will have superhuman intelligence. The only reasons this may not occur is if we develop some other dangerous technology first that destroys us, or otherwise fall victim to some existential risk. But assuming that scientific and technological progress continues, human-level machine intelligence is very likely to be developed. And shortly thereafter, superintelligence.
Continue reading ""Biological Brains are Unlikely to be the Final Stage of Intelligence"" »
Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, University of Michigan astronomers theorize. The researchers' work helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system's water formed. Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago? Or did the water originate even earlier—in the cold, ancient molecular cloud that spawned the sun and that planet-forming disk?
Continue reading "30% to 50% of Earth's Water Today came from the Primordial Molecular Cloud --"Older than the Solar System Itself"" »
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has obtained its first observations of the extended upper atmosphere surrounding Mars. The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained these false-color images eight hours after the successful completion of Mars orbit insertion by the spacecraft at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, after a 10-month journey.
Continue reading "Image of the Day: NASA's 1st Observations of Mars' Atmosphere" »
Elderly galaxies tend to be larger thanks to collisions and mergers with other galaxies that have bulked them out, and are populated with a variety of different types of stars — including old, young, large, and small ones. Their chemical makeup is different too. Newly-formed galaxies have a similar composition to the primordial matter created in the Big Bang (hydrogen, helium and a little lithium), while older galaxies are enriched with heavier elements forged in stellar furnaces over multiple generations of stars.
Continue reading "Hubble Captures a Newly-Formed Galaxy in Our Cosmic Neighborhood" »
Astronomers using data from three of NASA's space telescopes -- Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler -- have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.
Continue reading "Clear Skies and Water Vapor Discovered on a Distant Planet --"A Significant Milepost" Says NASA" »
Geobiologists have found evidence in the fossil record that complex multicellularity appeared in living things about 600 million years ago -- nearly 60 million years before skeletal animals appeared during a huge growth spurt of new life on Earth known as the Cambrian Explosion, contradicting several longstanding interpretations of multicellular fossils from at least 600 million years ago.
Continue reading "Complex Multicellularity Found in 600-Million-Year Old Fossils --Pushing Back Earth's Evolutionary Timeline" »
NASA's Exposing Microorganisms in the Stratosphere (E-MIST) experiment launched to the Earth's stratosphere on the exterior of a giant scientific balloon gondola at about 8 a.m. MST on Aug. 24 from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. Soaring 125,000 feet above the Earth, E-MIST was exposed to the upper atmosphere during a 5-hour journey over the desert, to understand how spore-forming bacteria, commonly-found in spacecraft assembly facilities, can survive.
Continue reading "Earth-Stratosphere Experiment May Prevent Microbial Contamination of Mars by Robotic Spacecraft" »
In 1953, American chemist Stanley Miller had famously electrified a mixture of simple gas and water to simulate lightning and the atmosphere of early Earth. The revolutionary experiment—which yielded a brownish soup of amino acids—offered a simple potential scenario for the origin of life’s building blocks. Miller’s work gave birth to modern research on pre-biotic chemistry and the origins of life.
Continue reading "Electricity at the Quantum Level --"Played a Strong Role in the Creation of Life"" »
A map of interstellar dust unveiled today from the obtained by the European Space Agency's Planck space observatory has substantially reduced the chances that a South Pole telescope (above) glimpsed gravitational waves from the Big Bang, as was claimed in March. The latest map, Nature reports, could, however, "guide astronomers to the regions where they might have the best chance of detecting such a primordial signal."
Continue reading "Primordial Signals from the Big Bang? New Planck Space Observatory Findings Casts Doubt on the March Discovery" »
Theoretical physicists have theorized a possible solution to a longstanding mystery bolstered by the recent discovery of the Higgs boson – a way to preserve the theory of supersymmetry. It was a breakthrough with profound implications for the world as we know it: the Higgs boson, the elementary particle that gives all other particles their mass, discovered at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012. But, for many scientists, it’s only the beginning. When the LHC fires up again in 2015 at its highest-ever collision energy, theorists will be watching with intense interest.
Continue reading ""Hidden Supersymmetry?" --Debate Over a New Physics Intensifies " »
Gravitational waves can be thought of like the sound waves emitted after an earthquake, but the source of the "tremors" in space are energetic events like supernovae (exploding stars), binary neutron stars (pairs of burned-out cores left behind when stars explode), or the mergers of black holes and neutron stars. Although scientists have long known about the existence of gravitational waves, they've never made direct observations but are attempting to do so through experiments on the ground and in space.
Continue reading ""Seeing" Gravitational Waves Using an Overlooked Prediction of Einstein's Theory of Relativity" »
“The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”
Continue reading "Maven Mission Nearing Mars Orbit in Search for Clues to Fate of Ancient Oceans" »
Is dark matter the "operating system" of the Universe? Tom Broadhurst, an Ikerbasque researcher at the UPV/EHU's Department of Theoretical Physics, thinks it is. He has participated alongside scientists of the National Taiwan University in a piece of research that explores cold dark matter in depth and proposes new answers about the formation of galaxies and the structure of the Universe. These predictions, published today in the prestigious journal Nature Physics, are being contrasted with fresh data provided by the Hubble space telescope.
Continue reading "Dark Matter as the "OS" of the Universe --"It's a Quantum Fluid Governing the Formation of the Structure of the Cosmos"" »
Galaxies such as our own Milky Way are believed to form over billions of years through the coming together of many smaller galaxies. As a result, it is expected that there should be many smaller dwarf galaxies scattered around the Milky Way. However, very few of these tiny relic galaxies have been observed, which has led astronomers to conclude that many of them must have very few stars or may be made almost exclusively of dark matter.
Continue reading "The Weekend Image: Dwarf Dark-Matter Galaxy 10 Billion Light Years from Earth" »
“Dark matter is there,” says says Paolo Zuccon, an assistant professor of physics at MIT. “We just don’t know what it is. AMS has the possibility to shine a light on its features. We see some hint now, and it is within our possibility to say if that hint is true.”
“The new phenomena could be evidence for the long-sought dark matter in the universe, or it could be due to some other equally exciting new science,” says Barry Barish, a professor emeritus of physics and high-energy physics at the California Institute of Technology., who was not involved in the experiments. “In either case, the observation in itself is what is exciting; the scientific explanation will come with further experimentation.”
Continue reading ""Cosmic Particles Detected that May Come from a New Unknown Source" --MIT Dark-Matter Team" »
Massive galaxies in the Universe have stopped making their own stars and are instead cannibalising nearby galaxies, according to research by Australian scientists. Astronomers looked at more than 22,000 galaxies and found that while smaller galaxies were very efficient at creating stars from gas, the most massive galaxies were much less efficient at star formation, producing hardly any new stars themselves, and instead grew by eating other galaxies.
Continue reading ""Gravity will Eventually Create a Universe with Only a Few Mega-Galaxies"" »
The DNA of every organism on Earth is a right-handed double helix, but why that would be has puzzled scientists since not long after Francis Crick and James Watson announced the discovery of DNA's double-helical structure in 1953. It's a puzzle because no one has been able to think of a fundamental reason why DNA couldn't also be left-handed.
Continue reading "Cosmic Puzzle Solved? --"Why Every Organism on Earth is a Right-handed Double Helix"" »
Astronomers using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground observation have found an unlikely object in an improbable place -- a monster black hole lurking inside one of the tiniest galaxies ever known. “That is pretty amazing, given that the Milky Way is 500 times larger and more than 1,000 times heavier than the dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1,” said Anil Seth, a University of Utah astronomer.
Continue reading "New Hubble Discovery --Supermasssive Black Hole at Center of a Dwarf Galaxy 1/500th Size of Milky Way" »
An international research has made surprising observations that most galaxy collisions in the nearby Universe — within 40 million light-years from Earth — result in so-called disc galaxies. Disc galaxies — including spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and lenticular galaxies — are defined by pancake-shaped regions of dust and gas, and are distinct from the category of elliptical galaxies.
Continue reading "Origins of Spiral Galaxies --The Result of Colossal Cosmic Collisions?" »
NGC 2683 is a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, giving it the shape of a classic science fiction spaceship, which is why the astronomers at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory, Cocoa, Fla., gave it this nickname. This barred spiral is receding from Earth at 410 km/s (250 mi/s), and from the Galactic Center at 375 km/s. The reddened light from the center of the galaxy appears yellowish due to the intervening gas and dust located within the outer arms.
Continue reading "Image of the Day --"The UFO Galaxy"" »
“Humankind hasn't had an experience like this--an encounter with a new planet--in a long time,” he Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute and the mission’s principal investigator. “Everything we see on Pluto will be a revelation.” One of the fastest spacecraft ever built -- NASA's New Horizons -- which is fast approaching Pluto's tiny moon, Hydra, is hurtling through the void at nearly one million miles per day. Launched in 2006, it has been in flight longer than some missions last, and it is nearing its unexplored destination.
Continue reading "New Horizon Spacecraft Racing Towards the "Unexplored Planet" --"Could Have Astrobiological Potential"" »