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Preparing weather forecasts for planets beyond our solar system

May 13, 2015 7:42 am | by Sean Bettam, Univ. of Toronto | News | Comments

"Cloudy for the morning, turning to clear with scorching heat in the afternoon." While this might describe a typical late-summer day in many places on Earth, it may also apply to planets outside our solar system, according to a new study by an international team of astrophysicists.

The dark side of star clusters

May 13, 2015 7:26 am | by ESO | News | Comments

Globular star clusters are huge balls of thousands of stars that orbit most galaxies. They are among the oldest known stellar systems in the universe and have survived through almost the entire span of galaxy growth and evolution.

Lopsided star explosion holds key to supernova mysteries

May 8, 2015 10:34 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

New observations of a recently exploded star are confirming supercomputer model predictions made at Caltech that the deaths of stellar giants are lopsided affairs in which debris and the stars' cores hurtle off in opposite directions. While observing the remnant of supernova (SN) 1987A, NuSTAR recently detected the unique energy signature of titanium-44.

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Fresh evidence for how water reached Earth

May 7, 2015 8:11 am | by Univ. or Warwick | News | Comments

Water delivery via asteroids or comets is likely taking place in many other planetary systems, just as it happened on Earth, new research strongly suggests. Led by the Univ. of Warwick, the research finds evidence for numerous planetary bodies, including asteroids and comets, containing large amounts of water.

Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy

May 6, 2015 9:01 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

An international team of astronomers has pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5% of its present age. The team discovered an exceptionally luminous galaxy more than 13 billion years in the past and determined its exact distance from Earth using the powerful MOSFIRE instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory’s 10-m telescope, in Hawaii. It is the most distant galaxy currently measured.

A hot start to the origin of life?

May 6, 2015 8:01 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

DNA is synonymous with life, but where did it originate? One way to answer this question is to try to recreate the conditions that formed DNA’s molecular precursors. These precursors are carbon ring structures with embedded nitrogen atoms, key components of nucleobases, which themselves are building blocks of the double helix.

First evidence of changing conditions on a super Earth

May 5, 2015 8:36 am | by Sarah Collins, Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

Astronomers have detected wildly changing temperatures on a super Earth, the first time any atmospheric variability has been observed on a rocky planet outside the solar system, and believe it could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, further adding to the mystery of what had been nicknamed the “diamond planet”.

Pulsar with widest orbit ever detected

May 4, 2015 11:25 am | by National Radio Astronomy Observatory | News | Comments

A team of highly determined high school students discovered a never-before-seen pulsar by painstakingly analyzing data from the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Further observations by astronomers using the GBT revealed that this pulsar has the widest orbit of any around a neutron star and is part of only a handful of double neutron star systems.

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“Nanoflares” superheat sun’s corona

May 4, 2015 9:44 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

New research by NASA, Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Glasgow details the first solid evidence of why the sun’s atmosphere is 300 times hotter than its 10,340 F surface. The answer, according to Rice astrophysicist Stephen Bradshaw and his colleagues, involves intermittent “nanoflares,” bursts of hot plasma in the corona that have a billion times less energy than regular flares but still reach temperatures of 18 million degrees Fahrenheit.

New exoplanet too big for its star

May 1, 2015 10:23 am | by Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

The Australian discovery of a strange exoplanet orbiting a small cool star 500 light-years away is challenging ideas about how planets form. In the past two decades more than 1,800 extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) have been discovered outside our solar system orbiting around other stars. The host star of the latest exoplanet, HATS-6, is classed as an M-dwarf, which is one of the most numerous types of stars in galaxy.

High-resolution images, taken through the observatory’s New Solar Telescope, show the atmosphere above the umbrae to be finely structured, consisting of hot plasma intermixed with cool plasma jets as wide as 100 kilometers.

NJIT's new solar telescope unveils the complex dynamics of sunspots' dark cores

April 30, 2015 11:22 am | by New Jersey Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Groundbreaking images of the Sun captured by scientists at NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) give a first-ever detailed view of the interior structure of umbrae—the dark patches in the center of sunspots—revealing dynamic magnetic fields responsible for the plumes of plasma that emerge as bright dots interrupting their darkness.

The Pillars of Creation revealed in 3-D

April 30, 2015 7:51 am | by Richard Hook, ESO, Public Information Officer | News | Comments

Using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have produced the first complete 3-D view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. The new observations demonstrate how the different dusty pillars of this iconic object are distributed in space and reveal many new details.

Astronomers find runaway galaxies

April 24, 2015 8:01 am | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

We know of about two dozen runaway stars, and have even found one runaway star cluster escaping its galaxy forever. Now, astronomers have spotted 11 runaway galaxies that have been flung out of their homes to wander the void of intergalactic space.

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Tau Ceti: The next Earth? Probably not

April 23, 2015 8:37 am | by Nikki Cassis, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

As the search continues for Earth-size planets orbiting at just the right distance from their star, a region termed the habitable zone, the number of potentially life-supporting planets grows. In two decades we have progressed from having no extrasolar planets to having too many to search. Narrowing the list of hopefuls requires looking at extrasolar planets in a new way.

Black hole hunters tackle a cosmic conundrum

April 21, 2015 8:31 am | by Dartmouth College | News | Comments

Dartmouth College astrophysicists and their colleagues haven’t only proven that a supermassive black hole exists in a place where it isn't supposed to be, but in doing so have opened a new door to what things were like in the early universe. Henize 2-10 is a small irregular galaxy that is not too far away in astronomical terms: 30 million light-years.

Pulsing light may indicate supermassive black hole merger

April 20, 2015 10:11 am | by Abby Robinson, Univ. of Maryland | News | Comments

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 Univ. of Maryland present direct evidence of a pulsing quasar, which may substantiate the existence of black hole binaries.

A cold cosmic mystery solved

April 20, 2015 8:31 am | by Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa | News | Comments

In 2004, astronomers examining a map of the radiation leftover from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) discovered the Cold Spot, a larger-than-expected unusually cold area of the sky. The physics surrounding the Big Bang theory predicts warmer and cooler spots of various sizes in the infant universe, but a spot this large and this cold was unexpected.

Astronomers probe inner region of young star and its planets

April 20, 2015 7:36 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

Astronomers have probed deeper than before into a planetary system 130 light-years from Earth. The observations mark the first results of a new exoplanet survey called LEECH (LBT Exozodi Exoplanet Common Hunt). The planetary system of HR8799, a young star only 30 million years old, was the first to be directly imaged, with three planets found in in 2008 and a fourth one in 2010.

Detector at the South Pole explores the mysterious neutrinos

April 17, 2015 8:51 am | by Univ. of Copenhagen | News | Comments

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 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.

Spitzer, OGLE spot planet deep within our galaxy

April 15, 2015 7:44 am | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has teamed up with a telescope on the ground to find a remote gas planet about 13,000 light-years away, making it one of the most distant planets known. The discovery demonstrates that Spitzer can be used to help solve the puzzle of how planets are distributed throughout our flat, spiral-shaped Milky Way galaxy. Are they concentrated heavily in its central hub, or more evenly spread throughout its suburbs?

Dark Energy Survey creates detailed guide to spotting dark matter

April 14, 2015 7:39 am | by Andre Salles, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory | News | Comments

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.

Violent methane storms on Titan may solve dune direction mystery

April 14, 2015 7:28 am | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

With its thick, hazy atmosphere and surface rivers, mountains, lakes and dunes, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system. As the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft examines Titan over many years, its discoveries bring new mysteries. One of those involves the seemingly wind-created sand dunes spotted by Cassini near the moon’s equator, and the contrary winds just above.

Accelerating universe? Not so fast

April 13, 2015 7:29 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

Certain types of supernovae, or exploding stars, are more diverse than previously thought, a Univ. of Arizona-led team of astronomers has discovered. The results have implications for big cosmological questions, such as how fast the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang.

Flip-flopping black holes spin to the end of the dance

April 10, 2015 8:01 am | by Susan Gawlowicz, Rochester Institute of Technology | News | Comments

When black holes tango, one massive partner spins head over heels (or in this case heels over head) until the merger is complete, according to researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology. This spin dynamic may affect the growth of black holes surrounded by accretion disks and alter galactic and supermassive binary black holes, leading to observational effects.

Study finds small solar eruptions can have profound effects on unprotected planets

April 10, 2015 7:48 am | by Susan Hendrix, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

While no one yet knows what's needed to build a habitable planet, it's clear that the interplay between the sun and Earth is crucial for making our planet livable: a balance between a sun that provides energy and a planet that can protect itself from the harshest solar emissions. Our sun steadily emits light, energy and a constant flow of particles called the solar wind that bathes the planets as it travels out into space.

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