Planet Venus, with its thick atmosphere made of carbon dioxide, its parched surface, and pressures so high that landers are crushed within a few hours, offers scientists a chance to study a planet very foreign to our own. Mysterious holes in the planet's ionosphere provide additional clues to understanding Venus's atmosphere, how the planet interacts with the constant onslaught of solar wind from the sun, and perhaps even what's lurking deep in its core.
Continue reading "Gigantic Holes in Venus's Hellish Atmosphere Provides Clues to Long-Standing Enigmas" »
Astronomers searching the atmospheres of alien worlds for gases that might be produced by life can't rely on the detection of just one type, such as oxygen, ozone, or methane, because in some cases these gases can be produced non-biologically, according to extensive simulations by researchers in the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory.
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Kepler researchers want to understand how terrestrial planets like Venus, Earth and Mars and gas giant planets like Jupiter are distributed in planetary systems around other stars. Understanding how planetary systems form and where different types of planets form can shed light on whether our solar system is unique, or more likely, is a "standard" form of planetary system formation.
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Quasars are supermassive black holes that live at the center of distant massive galaxies. They shine as the most luminous beacons in the sky across the entire electromagnetic spectrum by rapidly accreting matter into their gravitationally inescapable centers. New work from Carnegie’s Hubble Fellow Yue Shen and Luis Ho of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) at Peking University solves a quasar mystery that astronomers have been puzzling over for 20 years. Their work, published in the September 11 issue of Nature, shows that most observed quasar phenomena can be unified with two simple quantities: one that describes how efficiently the hole is being fed, and the other that reflects the viewing orientation of the astronomer.
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The question of how massive stars spend their short lives until they become supernovae is of great interest for astrophysicists. According to the standard theory, which is only applicable to isolated stars, only cool and extended (red supergiants) or hot and blue (Wolf-Rayet stars) are able to become supernovae. However, growing evidence suggests that most massive stars are not lonely singles but they belong to close binary systems with profuse interactions. Episodes of mass transfer between the members of binary star systems affect the way the stars evolve, meaning that there are a great many more potential scenarios for the final stages of supernova progenitors.
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A new survey of galaxies by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is taking a plunge into the deep and uncharted waters of our cosmos. In one of the longest surveys the telescope will have ever performed, astronomers have begun a three-month expedition trawling for faint galaxies billions of light-years away. The results are already yielding big surprises.
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"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 and a co-author on the study. "These observations open a new window on this poorly known component of cometary organics."
Continue reading ""Ghostly Organic Atmospheres of Comets Fueled the Emergence of Life" --Goddard Center for Astrobiology" »
The Milky Way galaxy is orbited by more than 150 globular star clusters, which are balls of hundreds of thousands of old stars dating back to the formation of the galaxy. One of these, along with several others in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), was found in the late eighteenth century by the French comet hunter Charles Messier and given the designation Messier 54.
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Scientists have found evidence of plate tectonics on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Plate tectonics are essential to life as we know it, according to Diana Valencia of Harvard University. Plate tectonics -the movement of huge chunks, or plates, of a planet's surface- are crucial to a planet's habitability because they enable complex chemistry and recycle substances like carbon dioxide, which acts as a thermostat and keeps Earth balmy. Carbon dioxide that was locked into rocks is released when those rocks melt, returning to the atmosphere from volcanoes and oceanic ridges. "Recycling is important even on a planetary scale," Valencia explained.
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The 2020 Mars rover has the overarching goal of seeking the signs of life, following up on the Curiosity rover's discovery at the Gale Crater landing site (above) that Mars could have been habitable billions of years ago. So the focus of the NASA science community is: Where would be the best place on Mars where evidence of life might have been preserved, according to Michael Meyer, NASA's lead scientist for the Mars program. NASA officials have identified more than 50 potential landing spots requested by the scientific community during a workshop held in May. Now, NASA officials working with the rover are going to start investigating those suggestions to see which will be the best fit for the spacecraft and its mission, specifically an area that isn't too rocky or high in altitude.
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